The junior hockey experiment in Minot appeared to be a dud after the Minotauros' inaugural season.
The Tauros finished an NAHL-worst 7-49-4, prompting a late-season coaching change, while trading former captain Ben Hughes to Janesville (Wisc.).
Despite the turmoil, current head coach Marty Murray has the Tauros headed in the right direction during the program's second season. The Tauros have won a franchise-record four consecutive games and, at 9-12-1, hold the fourth playoff spot in the Central Division.
"Everybody involved was a little overwhelmed at the beginning," Murray said. "You have to educate yourself on what this league is all about."
Although this is his first head-coaching stint, Murray is no stranger to hockey, having spent 15 years on the ice at the professional level. The 96th overall draft pick in 1993 by the Calgary Flames played in 261 career NHL games. Aside from Calgary, Murray spent time with the Philadelphia Flyers, Carolina Hurricanes and Los Angeles Kings.
Since being named head coach, Murray has tried to instill the mental toughness into his team that is needed to be a successful program.
"Any coach wants their players to be a team that works hard every night and that's what we want our identity to be," Murray said. "We want to play that in-your-face style."
Forward Jadin Martin experienced the growing pains along with Murray after coming over in a trade with Austin prior to the 2011-12 season. Martin was a bright spot in a troubled season, finishing with 27 points on 12 goals and 15 assists in 55 games.
Martin said Murray made a series of moves in the offseason in hopes of building a more competitive team.
"We started from scratch over the summer," Martin said. "(Murray) got a great group of guys together that know how to win and can work as a team. He's filled in the gaps that were needed to put a team together that can make a run at the Robertson Cup (the NAHL championship)."
Martin is second on the team in scoring this season with 19 points and has tallied at least one point in each of the last four games, including a three-point performance in a 4-1 win against Bismarck on Nov. 17.
Notable acquisitions under Murray include forward and leading scorer Jake O'Borsky, forward Lucas Oliver, defenseman David Dalbec and goaltender Tyler Parks.
"He knows the game inside and out," Martin said. "Obviously, he knows what it takes to get to the next level."
Murray began his career in a junior hockey program much like the one he coaches today, playing four seasons with the Brandon Wheat Kings of the Western Hockey League, which includes teams from western Canada and the northwest United States. He was named WHL Player of the Year in 1995-96 and finished his junior career with 392 points in 264 games.
"You try to relate to the guys," Murray said. "We understand what they go through on a daily basis and understand it's not an easy transition. They've been doing real well for the last month or so."
Despite playing on the biggest stage in front of large crowds, Murray said he gets more nervous coaching than he ever did as a player.
"It's funny that I could play in front of 20,000 screaming fans in an NHL arena and not think twice about it, but on a Friday night against Bismarck, it's a nerve-racking experience," Murray said. "You can't get your nose in there and help out."
Minot hosts Central Division-leading Austin at 7:35 p.m. Friday at Maysa Arena.