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Murovich makes most of opportunity with Pens

| Sunday, June 29, 2008

Given Mt. Lebanon product Ty Murovich's background, it's no surprise he scored an invite to the Penguins' prospect camp. But it's also not shocking that the 5-foot-9, 175-pound center was in awe of the opportunity.

"It was awesome to walk into the locker room and see my nameplate engraved with my name and the Penguins (logo) next to it," said Murovich, who finished his week-long stay at the camp with a scrimmage Saturday. "My locker is in one corner, and I turn around and look in the other corner and see a nameplate with (Sidney) Crosby and (Mario) Lemieux on it. That's as good as it gets right there."

You can't blame Murovich, 18, for being star-struck. This is the kid whose love for the sport started as a 2-year-old, when he used to shoot tobacco cans with a hockey stick in his living room.

Murovich was rollerblading by his third birthday and playing ice hockey two years later. When he was 10, his father, Ralph Murovich, built Ice Castle Arena in Castle Shannon.

That's when Ty Murovich's dream was born and, in later years, developed.

"When Ty was 10, 11 years old, I would ask hockey people, 'How do you get to the NHL?'" Ralph Murovich said. "They all had the same answer: more ice and more availability. Every player who made it to the next level had tremendous availability to ice. My ice is available to kids."

Ty Murovich took advantage by spending 35 hours a week at the rink in the offseason. During the season, he was busy with the Mt. Lebanon High School team. He had 75 points in 24 games as a freshman and recorded 70 points in 21 games as a sophomore to lead Mt. Lebanon to a state title.

Murovich then left Pittsburgh in search of better competition and more exposure. As a junior, he played in the United States Hockey League with the Chicago Steel. This past season, Murovich played with the Saginaw Spirit of the Ontario Hockey League, which meant he had to give up his scholarship to Western Michigan in compliance with NCAA rules.

"It was great matching up against some of the best players around my age in the world," Murovich said. "The OHL is the No. 1 supplier of prospects to the NHL. I played against (No. 1 overall draft pick) Steven Stamkos. Because I'm a two-way center, I'd get matched up with him."

Eight of the top 10 picks in last week's NHL draft were from the OHL, including the top four. Considering Murovich's numbers (19 goals and 19 assists in 68 games) during his first year in the league, striving for the NHL seems like a realistic dream.

"It's just another sign of the strides made by Pittsburgh area hockey," said Tom McMillan, the Penguins' vice president of communications. "A lot more kids are developing overall, and that is funneling into a lot more elite players coming out of this region."

Murovich is the cream of an improving crop of area prospects. Western Pennsylvania also has produced 23 Division I hockey players, and eight others are committed to Division I schools.

Murovich was not drafted this year, his first year of eligibility, but that didn't discourage him. And as far as his shot with the Penguins, he wants to make the most of it.

"I try not to worry about it because the only things I can control is how hard I work," he said. "(I plan) tp play with confidence and show them what I can do. If it doesn't work out, I'll go back to Saginaw looking for a big year."

It will be difficult to top his rookie year. Aside from his statistics, he won his team's Fan Favorite award, Top Scholar award (Murovich graduated from Nouvel Catholic Central High School in December) and the Heart and Soul Award.

"He's the Sidney Crosby to that team in that town," Ralph Murovich said. "Granted, it's the OHL, not the NHL. But the entire town comes together for their games."

Ty Murovich hopes his nameplate will someday be commonplace in the Penguins' locker room -- near Lemieux's and Crosby's.

"If it wasn't for (Lemieux), I would have never played hockey," Murovich said. "People in Pittsburgh say, 'Mario built the rinks, and now Crosby is filling them up. And I believe it, too."

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