Can Sarah Murray, daughter of former NHL coach Andy Murray, lead Korean team to hockey glory?

"Nobody thinks Korea has a chance," says Andy Murray of his daughter's team. "Nobody but Sarah. I know this, though. Win or lose, those girls will have no regrets when they leave the ice after their last game. Sarah will make sure they give it their all." AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon

Andy Murray got off the bus at 4 a.m. on Sunday. His Western Michigan hockey team had made the five-hour ride from Oxford, Ohio, a little shorter by overcoming a 2-0 deficit to beat Miami University 3-2 and snap a four-game losing streak. The 66-year-old coach was certainly entitled to a good night's sleep in his own bed in Kalamazoo. But he had another game to worry about, one that was being played some 6,500 miles away in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

The Korean women's hockey team was facing Sweden in a warm-up to the 2018 Winter Olympics, and his daughter, Sarah Murray -- who is 29 and a dual citizen of the U.S. and Canada -- just happens to be the coach for the first team to include athletes from both South Korea and North Korea.

"I checked the score -- Sweden 3, Korea 1," Murray said. "Not too long ago, Sweden would've beaten them 20-0. Then I watched her at the press conference and took pride in how well she handled that.

"All her life, she's been making me smile. When she put on skates for the first time, when she played hockey in the basement, then in high school and college and the pros. And now this."

Actually, it's wrong to write that Sarah Murray "just happens to be" the coach of the Korean Olympic women's hockey team. She was born for the job, to Ruth and Andy Murray, in April 1988 in Faribault, Minnesota, when her father was an assistant with the NHL's North Stars. Faribault also is the home of Shattuck-St. Mary's, the Episcopal prep school that writer Gare Joyce famously coined as the "Hogwarts of Hockey." Andy Murray would coach there one day. And his three kids would play there.

Murray has been coaching since 1976, when he was 27 and his uncle asked him to take over the Brandon Travellers, a Junior A team in Manitoba. He coached in college, Europe, the AHL and the NHL while he and Ruth raised two boys, Brady and Jordan, and Sarah, each of them a rink rat.

"All the credit goes to my incredible wife," he said. "Ruth was always there for them, and I'm so happy that she and the boys will be going to Pyeongchang to cheer Sarah on."

Murray has been to the Olympics himself, as an assistant to Marc Crawford, the coach of Team Canada at the Nagano Games in 1998 -- the first time the NHL allowed its players to compete. He coached one year at Shattuck-St. Mary's, then went from "Hogwarts" to Hollywood to become the head coach of the Los Angeles Kings, where he stayed for most of seven seasons. The high point came in the 2000-01 playoffs, when the Kings upset the heavily favored Detroit Red Wings and came back from a 3-1 deficit to take the eventual Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche to seven games.

The kids didn't always have to watch him from afar. "The best part of the coaching in the NHL," Murray said, "was that we could take them on charter flights, and they could get on the ice with the players." So, Sarah and her brothers got to skate with the likes of Luc Robitaille, Ziggy Palffy, Rob Blake and Dan Bylsma. Brady was drafted by the Kings in 2003 after playing at North Dakota, and Jordan played for the University of Wisconsin.

While her father was coaching the Kings, Sarah enrolled at Shattuck-St. Mary's, where she played defense. "Gordon Stafford, the coach there, was always kind enough to send me her tapes," Murray said. When it came time for her to pick a college, Sarah decided to go to the University of Minnesota Duluth to play for Shannon Miller, the Canadian hockey legend who had built one of the strongest programs in women's collegiate hockey.

Murray, in the meantime, was fired by the Kings in March 2006. He became a commentator for "Hockey Night in Canada" as Sarah was entering Minnesota Duluth for her freshman year, then he headed back to the bench as coach for the St. Louis Blues after they fired Mike Kitchen in December 2006. He lasted there until January 2010.

"The nice thing about being fired," Murray said, "was that I got to go to see Sarah finish out her career at UMD."

And a remarkable career it was, especially for a 5-foot-3, 120-pound defender. A lefty, she played in 34 games as a freshman before breaking an ankle in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association playoffs, then played 108 straight games after coming back the next season. She helped the Bulldogs to two national titles (2008 and 2010).

"She was a three-time scholar-athlete too," Murray said. "Smart and tough. I'm smiling right now, thinking about Senior Night and the roses and the big hug. I think it was the happiest I've ever been in hockey.

"And then there was the Frozen Four final against Cornell. Duluth wins 3-2 at the end of the third overtime. Three full overtimes! Shannon Miller was down to only three or four defensemen at the end of regulation, and Sarah was one of them."

After college, Sarah decided to follow in her brothers' footsteps and play in a pro league in Switzerland. The team she chose, HC Lugano, brought back memories to her father. Back in 1992, when Sarah was just 4, Murray was coaching for the same club when the fans staged an uprising.

"Ah, Lugano," he recalled. "OK, you have to understand that it's in the Italian region of Switzerland, and they're very passionate about hockey. They take it as seriously as soccer. We had lost like three games in a row, and the fans were waiting outside the locker room to, shall we say, voice their displeasure. Anyway, after those three losses, I was ready to join them."

He did, leaving Lugano to return to the States. In July 2011, Murray decided to take the Western Michigan coaching job. At his introductory press conference, he said that coaching college hockey was on his bucket list. In 2012, he led the Broncos to their first conference championship since 1986. As for Sarah, she traveled to China to teach kindergarten at a school in Beijing. She tried to satisfy her need to play hockey in a men's "beer league," but she found that wasn't enough. "I realized I had that fire still," she said.

Here's where "just happens to be" does apply. In July 2014, Murray and his wife just happened to be at the wedding of Spiros Anastas, a former assistant of his who was coaching with the Grand Rapids Griffins of the AHL. He ran into Jim Paek, a Korean-Canadian who had been on the Pittsburgh Penguins' Stanley Cup-winning teams in 1991 and 1992 and also was coaching the Griffins.

"At the time, Jim was thinking of taking the job as head of the South Korean program. He knew I had some experience with international hockey, so we talked for a bit about the opportunity," Murray said. "I encouraged him to take the job."

"A few weeks later," he continued, "Sarah is back in Kalamazoo, training to go back to Switzerland to play. Jim is there, watching her practice, and he says to me, 'She gets the game, doesn't she?' I didn't disagree. She's always been a sponge for hockey knowledge. Turns out he needed somebody to take over the women's program in South Korea, so they talked. But it wasn't until after she arrived in Switzerland that she got the offer."

When she accepted the job -- "I didn't think twice about it," she has said -- her father was somewhat torn.

"I knew she was the right choice," Murray said, "I knew she could do it. But that was the mentor in me, not the father, and I'm her father first. So I did worry about the constant rumblings in the Koreas, about having my daughter work just 40 miles from the [Korean Demilitarized Zone], which is less than the distance between Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo."

He also knew she could handle herself in a foreign country. And she kept in touch constantly.

"She sent me tapes. I know her lines as well as I know my own. Two years ago, I went over to South Korea to give a coaching clinic, and I saw for myself the tremendous progress she had made -- and continues to make," Murray said. "The first time they played North Korea, they lost by 11 goals. The second time, they won by three. Same thing happened at Shattuck. A few years ago, they lost 12-0 to the U18 team. This January, they played another exhibition, and South Korea won 4-3 in overtime."

One of the national team members, Grace Lee, played at Shattuck. There are a few other Korean-Americans on the national team: Marissa Brandt, the sister of Team USA's Hannah Brandt; Randi Griffin, who played for Harvard; and Caroline Park, a medical student and Princeton grad. But for the most part, the national team is Sarah's handiwork. And she got to demonstrate how far they've come during a winter swing through the States, playing not only Shattuck, but college and pro teams.

After South Korea lost to the Connecticut Whale of the National Women's Hockey League 4-1 at Yale on Dec. 30, Whale coach Ryan Equale told John Altavilla of the Hartford Courant, "They have very good spatial awareness. You can tell they have been playing together for a while."

Unfortunately, when they returned to South Korea, they discovered that things -- everything, really -- had changed.

"Sarah gets off the plane after a 16-hour flight and is met by all these reporters," Murray explained. "They're wanting to know how she feels about coaching a combined team from the Koreas. Suddenly, she's faced with this new challenge, blending two teams that don't even speak the same language into one. And she has 2½ weeks to do it."

Sarah immediately made it clear that she felt a responsibility to her own players. They will continue to play together after the Olympics; they have a tournament in Italy in April. But for now, she has 35 players -- 23 South Koreans and 12 North Koreans -- and she can dress only 22 for the Games in Pyeongchang.

"She's something," Murray said. "Fourteen-hour days, two practices, trying to learn a new language, holding press conference with foreign reporters."

She also has been sending videos back to her father.

"I think you'll see four North Koreans on the ice," Murray said. "A defenseman and three forwards. That still means five of her players won't dress, and she feels bad about that. But like I texted her the other day, before the exhibition against Sweden, I am just so proud of her."

Korea is in Group B with Sweden, Switzerland and Japan, and it begins play on Saturday with a game against Switzerland -- a country with which the Murrays are all too familiar.

"Nobody thinks Korea has a chance," Murray said. "Nobody but Sarah. I know this, though. Win or lose, those girls will have no regrets when they leave the ice after their last game. Sarah will make sure they give it their all."

When they do skate off, an old coach and a loving father will be smiling.