Sarah Murray following in father's footsteps, leading Korea into Olympics
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Every now and then, Sarah Murray will recognize something about herself, usually when she's directing her players from behind the bench.
"Sometimes I'll say something on the bench and I'll go 'Ohhh, that was my dad,'" says Murray,
The daughter of former NHL coach Andy Murray, Sarah is coaching the host Korean women's hockey team at the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang. Murray, a dual Canadian-American citizen, has a unique task ahead of her after North and South Korea reached an agreement in January to field a single women's hockey team.
Murray uses similar tactics employed by her dad, including setting team meetings for precisely 4:37 p.m. to ensure players are on their toes. It's not always successful.
"Sometimes I'll catch myself doing that and our players, they don't like it," Murray said in an interview. "He definitely comes out in different ways on the ice and off the ice. It's interesting because as a kid you're like 'I don't want to be like my parents,' and then I catch myself doing it.
"He's a great coach so the habits that I'm using are really good."
Although she had never coached before, Murray had won a pair of national championships while playing collegiate hockey at Minnesota–Duluth. Now 29, she took the job when she was just 25.
"It's insane. I'm so fortunate," said Murray. "Sometimes when I get frustrated about work or the players aren't responding, I have to be like 'Look at what I'm doing, this is an amazing opportunity.'"
Andy Murray had a relationship with Canadian Jim Paek, the coach of the men's South Korean team. With Sarah having spent a year teaching English in China, Paek thought that she would be a good fit for the job. Her father agreed.
"Bottom line is I thought she was capable," her father said. "I wouldn't have told Jim that I thought she was capable of doing the job if I didn't believe it. I knew that there was lots to learn but I knew that she was a tireless worker, had been that way as a player, and was a fierce competitor and she gets the game."
Andy Murray, who currently coaches the men's hockey team at Western Michigan, has no shortage of international coaching experience. He's won a record six Spengler Cups with Team Canada, is the only Canadian coach to win three world championships and was also an assistant under Marc Crawford at the 1998 Nagano Olympics.
He also coached the St. Louis Blues and Los Angeles Kings.
Murray says that his international coaching experiences are "totally different" than his daughter's, but he has drawn on his time as a young coach in Switzerland and Germany when giving her advice.
Having her father just a phone call away has been an welcome resource for Sarah, who has had to reshape a team and program, not to mention deal with a major last-minute roster disruption.
"He told me that you can't go in and try to change everything, the players aren't going to respect you," she said. "He just taught me being patient, being flexible, more that kind of style of teaching.
"Now in this last year it's been a lot more systems, this is what I think you guys should try to do on your breakout and then we'll try it in practice. If it doesn't work then we'll try and do a conference call after to discuss what worked and what didn't work. He's been really great about giving me ideas, both off ice and on ice."
The South Korean portion of Murray's roster recently returned from a training camp in the U.S. and has been fine-tuning systems and tactics.
Since then, 12 North Koreans have joined the team which opens preliminary-round play on Saturday against Switzerland. Korea will also face Sweden and Japan.
"We do believe that with the way our bracket is laid out for the Olympics we have a higher chance for success," Murray said in a recent email. "It's definitely not going to be easy, but we are going to go into every game planning to play to win."
Although he wishes he could be there in person, Andy Murray has his own team to coach during the Olympics — although his wife and two sons will be in Pyeongchang to support Sarah.
"She knows what they're up against here at the Olympics with the types of teams," her father said. "They've gotten better and better and that's the bottom line. And they've got young girls now in the country that are aspiring to be national team players."
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