Maybe Western Michigan head coach Andy Murray thought he was still coaching in the NHL. Maybe he was physically in the visitors’ locker room at Yost Ice Arena, but mentally in Los Angeles or St. Louis, where he coached for a number of years and where it isn’t taboo to discuss the referees.

Whatever the reason, Murray had to stop himself from commenting on the officiating after Saturday night’s 5-2 Michigan win over his fourth-ranked Broncos.

“The officials — well, (the Wolverines) got to practice their power play a little more than we did tonight,” Murray said. “That’s all I’ll say.”

The CCHA is known for coming down hard on coaches who comment on the referees.

The off-the-cuff remark, like Western Michigan’s first loss of the season Saturday, was a reality check for Murray, whose experimental return to the ranks of college coaching has been a successful one thus far.

This past offseason, former Broncos coach Jeff Blashill left after just one season at the helm. Credit Athletic Director Kathy Beauregard for saving the program by bringing in a coach that even impressed Michigan coach Red Berenson. Earlier this season, Berenson hinted that Western Michigan (4-1-1 CCHA, 6-1-3 overall) could contend for the CCHA title much in part to their experienced new coach.

His prediction has been spot on. The Broncos don’t just think they can play with the nation’s best — they know it. In Western Michigan’s win Friday night — a 3-2 thriller over Michigan in Yost — the Wolverines looked lethargic compared to their in-state rival. If that’s not enough proof to establish the Broncos’ legitimacy, examine their locker room after Saturday’s loss.

Not a single skater was satisfied with the split.

“Bottom line, it wasn’t good enough,” Murray said. “I think the days of Western Michigan coming up here and being happy with a split are gone. We came here on a mission and we didn’t get it done.”

When asked how hockey has evolved at the collegiate level since he last coached at Brandon University in Canada, Murray joked that his last group of players in 1979-80 are undoubtedly older and slower compared to his current Broncos.

Then, he pointed out what’s really changed.

“It’s fast,” Murray said of today’s game. “Guys are better conditioned. Everybody’s better trained. Coaching here is just like coaching in the NHL.”

Though Murray says he can’t make heads or tails out of the college hockey rankings, voters have certainly taken notice of the fourth-ranked Broncos’ early success.

Following Saturday’s game, Michigan junior forward A.J. Treais acknowledged that Western Michigan is certainly a CCHA title contender.

And if Murray continues at this pace, his performance may very well warrant the CCHA Coach of the Year award in just his first year in the conference.

After coaching against legends in professional hockey, Murray says that at the college level, the opposing coaches are of the same caliber. The weekend series was his first time coaching against Berenson.

In describing his relationship with Berenson, Murray again turned into a comedian.

“(It’s) rotten right now, because they just beat us,” Murray said before answering honestly. “He’s a classy guy.”

Not only was this weekend Murray’s first glance at Berenson, it was also his first time at Yost. The atmosphere didn’t disappoint.

“It’s what college hockey’s all about,” Murray said. “I just feel so fortunate to have the opportunity and it was an exciting night.”

But Murray still much prefers his own home ice in Kalamazoo.

“Have you been to Lawson (Ice Arena) yet? Come there,” Murray said. “You’ll see what a crowd’s about too.”

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