Defenseman Evan Murr brings joy, soft panic button, creativity with him daily for St. Cloud Norsemen
MSU-Mankato commit has helped one of the top power-play teams in the NAHL to lead the Central Division.
ST. CLOUD, Minn. — Some parts of people's personalities get established at a young age. That sounds like it was definitely the case for Evan Murr.
"I've always been a kid who has a smile on his face and tries to keep a positive attitude," Murr said. "They used to joke with me and make fun of me because I would never close my mouth as a kid.
"My mouth would always be drying out and I'd have a smile from ear to ear."
If you talk to people around the St. Cloud Norsemen of the North American Hockey League, the 19-year-old defenseman's upbeat demeanor comes up when they are asked about him.
"The great thing about him is that he comes to the rink with a smile on his face and he loves being here," said Norsemen assistant coach Clark Kuster, who works with the defensemen. "He loves being around the boys, loves being on the ice. He loves the game and he wants to play for a long time.
"You're not going to get very far if you're not having fun and he's having a blast. It's great to be around him at the rink."
His skill also makes him a big asset to the Norsemen, who lead the Central Division with a 35-15-2-1 record and are 10 points ahead of second place Aberdeen (29-20-3-2) with seven games left on their schedule. St. Cloud plays North Iowa (22-23-4-6) at 7 p.m. Friday, April 1, at Municipal Athletic Complex.
The skill set
Murr is one of the main engines that has helped the Norsemen to third in the league in goals (204, 3.85 per game). Among defensemen, he is tied for seventh in the league in points (36) and is tied for third in power-play assists (14). St. Cloud is fifth among the 29 NAHL teams on the power play (26%).
"I've always been an offensive-minded defenseman," said Murr, who is from Stillwater, Minn. "A big focus for me this year has been elevating the defensive side of my game. When I'm playing well, it's defending hard and still leaving myself in a position where I can jump up into plays.
"I run the power play and when we're good, we're one of the best power plays in the division. We want to compete with the best in this league and that's important to my game."
That smile for Murr also comes with a confidence, which is a strength.
"He has a little too much confidence sometimes," Millen said with a laugh. "He has a belief in himself to be good. You don't see it enough.
"He's deceptive, has good legs, a good skill set," Millen said of Murr, who is listed at 5-foot-11 and 175 pounds. "He's got a good brain, has confidence. His calmness — his panic button is a bit softer than most. A lot of times, it's good. But there are other times when he gets in a little bit of trouble and overhandles (the puck) a bit too long."
But Murr is willing to learn, listen and he has a desire to improve.
"He wants to get better," said Kuster, a former St. Cloud State defenseman. "He wants to watch video. He wants to ask questions and he wants to figure out the best way for him to become a great defenseman."
As his NAHL rookie season swung into the winter months, the college recruiting interest in Murr picked up. He got serious recruiting looks from St. Cloud State and Bemidji State, but ended up verbally committing to Minnesota State University-Mankato on Feb. 18.
The Mavericks have qualified for their second straight NCAA Division I Frozen Four and the team's culture sounds like it won him over.
"To see a place where you've got the trust between the teammates and the coaches — they're implementing a game plan and the players are buying in and executing that at the collegiate level is really important," Murr said. "I'm really excited and looking forward to seeing them in the Frozen Four this week.
"Winning is important and hockey is no fun if you're not winning games. I think since coach (Mike) Hastings got there, they've been the No. 1 team in the NCAA for wins. I'm really excited to work with people who know how to succeed and they're good at what they do."
Being close to family
It is also helped that the Mavericks play in the state and close to his home.
"Being from Minnesota, you always want to play Minnesota college hockey — that's the dream," he said. "Everyone wants to play for the Gophers. I can't say I was a fan. But you want to stay close to home and that means a lot to your family. Having my family being a part of my college experience and being able to watch those games is really important to me."
Murr said that his mother (Deidra) and father (Joe) attend a lot of his games and said that they made the trip to Mason City, Iowa, to watch St. Cloud's game against North Iowa on Wednesday.
"They're people that me and my brother look up to a lot," said Murr, who also has a sister. "They were always driving us to sports. Having three kids in sports growing up and it's not easy to manage that."
Murr's brother, Austin, played first base and outfield for the 2020 and 2021 seasons for North Carolina State and was drafted by the Detroit Tigers in the sixth round (165th overall) of the 2021 Major League Baseball Draft. Austin, who is in spring training with the Tigers, is listed at 6-foot-2 and 218 pounds and helped the Wolfpack reach the College World Series last year.
But Austin also played defense in hockey, including his last two years of high school.
"Him playing hockey was a big influence on me," Murr said. "His team was one win away from playing in the (College World Series) finals and they got shut down due to COVID.
"You see that and I kind of look at it as every single day, I've got to take advantage of what I have. You never know when something is going to be taken away from you."