Murray Clifford Oliver
Born: November 14, 1937 (Hamilton, Ontario)
Died: November 23, 2014 (Edina, Minnesota)
Murray Oliver was a stylish playmaker who showed scoring prowess as a youngster before converting into a penalty-killing specialist.
Oliver played junior hockey in his hometown of Hamilton, Ont. He had a one game tryout with the parent Detroit Red Wings late in the 1957-58 season, recording an assist. The Red Wings sent him to the Edmonton Flyers of the Western Hockey League for further seasoning.
He played 54 games for the Red Wings in 1959-60, scoring an impressive 20 goals and 19 assists in his rookie campaign. He was runner up to Bill Hay of the Chicago Black Hawks in voting for the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year.
The 5-foot-10, 170-pound centre scored 20 goals in four of his first six seasons, an accomplishment in a pre-expansion era when 20 was a benchmark. It helped to centre a line with Gordie Howe on right wing.
In January, 1961, Oliver was traded to the Boston Bruins in a five-player swap. The club was rebuilding and Boston failed to make the playoffs in any of the seven seasons in which he wore the black and gold.
In May, 1967, Oliver was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs for Eddie Shack, a fan favourite known as The Entertainer for his on-ice antics. Oliver was Shack’s opposite in charisma and flamboyance, though knowledgable hockey fans appreciated his work ethic and the sacrifice he made in killing penalties, often while paired with Bob Pulford.
A trade to the Minnesota North Stars in 1970 brought him to his final hockey home. He bought a house in Edina, Minn., and after retiring as a player became an assistant coach of the North Stars. He coached the team for four games in 1981-82 (going 3-0-1) when Glen Sonmor was sidelined by illness. He took over the team midway through the following season going 18-12-7.
He later worked as a scout for the Vancouver Canucks and became the team’s director of professional scouting.
In the offseason, Oliver worked as a carpenter, though he also tried his hand at professional baseball. He had a brief stint with the Batavia (N.Y.) Indians of the Pony League in 1958.
“I signed with the understanding that I could continue my hockey career,” he once said. “But something happened that winter that really ruined my baseball plans.
“While playing for a junior hockey team in Hamilton I crashed into a goal post and fractured my left arm. I wasn’t able to report to Batavia until July. I had lost all chance at playing shortstop. So they put me in at third base and it was pretty tough getting used to that position. Three weeks later I got my unconditional release.”
Oliver appeared in just 12 games for the Class-D team in the Cleveland Indians system. He hit three singles and two doubles in 27 at-bats for a poor .185 batting average.
He had greater success on the diamonds of Ontario with the Hamilton Beavers of the Major Inter-County League, a semiprofessional circuit. It was while playing semipro ball that he met his future wife, Helen Murray. The Red Wings asked him to quit baseball midway through the summer of 1960. He hung up his cleats even though he was hitting .460 for the Beavers.