David Poile is asked what he remembers most about working with Bryan Murray and before answering, he looks off in the distance and grins.
Before long the grin is a full-blown smile. Poile was the general manager of the Washington Capitals when Murray coached the team.
“The thing I remember most is the almost sarcastic sense of humor he had with players,” Poile said. “It is a little bit taboo, but he was a coach who would often yell at players from the other team. That drove so many guys berserk. Other managers would come up to me and say, ‘Your coach can’t do that.’ It was almost like he was breaking the code, but he was never hesitant to do it.”
When Murray is asked about this, he immediately pleads guilty. Murray said very early in his NHL coaching career with the Capitals, he chirped Philadelphia Flyers legend Bobby Clarke.
“I yelled at Bobby Clarke, ‘Why don’t you retire?’ when I first started,” Murray recalled. “Bobby made some comment back to me and I said, ‘Just (blankety-blank) retire.’ My brother Terry, our assistant coach, came to me and said, ‘You can’t be yelling at the players.’ I said, ‘You just coach the defense and let me worry about the rest.’ ”
Murray said on occasion he’d tell an opposing player he was going to send one of his tough guys out to fight them only to have his own player turn around to the coach and say, “I hope you’re not sending me.”
All fun and games. Or so he thought. When Ron Hextall became the GM of the Philadelphia Flyers and found out he’d be seated beside Murray at his first GM meetings, he told people he thought Murray hated him.
“I told Ron, ‘You have to understand that when I yelled at a guy he was a guy who was beating me or was too competitive and I wanted him on my team,” Murray said. “I didn’t care about guys who didn’t compete.’ Ron smiled at me.”
Sad as it is to ponder, at age 71 Bryan Murray is on the clock. He was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer that has spread to his liver and lungs. So it is not surprising that as he takes his chemotherapy treatments, his medical situation has caused him to reflect on his life in the game of hockey.
Murray was a successful junior hockey coach with the Regina Pats and has coached and managed in the NHL with the Capitals, Anaheim Ducks, Detroit Red Wings, Florida Panthers and Ottawa Senators.
Coaching has always been his first love, even though he has enjoyed success as a GM, so when Murray got the chance to return to the area he grew up, Shawville, near Ottawa, to coach the Senators, he jumped at it. Murray figured he’d coach for three or four years and then retire.
“Ten years later I’m still at it, Murray said. “It’s not a job to me.”
There is one chapter in his career that still sticks in his craw, though. It was 1980 and his Regina Pats were Western Hockey League champions and host team at the Memorial Cup tournament, which also feature the Peterborough Petes and Cornwall Royals.
Regina lost its first three round-robin games while the Petes won their first three earning themselves a spot in the final.
Even though Regina thrashed the Royals 11-2 in their final round-robin game, Peterborough held the Pats fate in their hands. If the Petes beat Cornwall in their fourth round-robin game, they would have to play the Pats in Regina with WHL on-ice officials working the game. They didn’t like those odds so the Petes lost purposely to Cornwall, which meant they would face the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League champs in a one-game showdown for the Memorial Cup.
The Royals got the last laugh winning 3-2 in overtime in the final game.
For the most part Murray has let the sour experience go.
“It would have been nice to win, but as much as we complain about what the Petes did, we put ourselves in that spot by losing the first game to Cornwall,” Murray concluded.
For Murray, even with cancer it is pretty much business as usual. He tries to be around the team as much as possible unless it conflicts with his Chemo treatments.
Murray prefers to live in the moment even though it is impossible not to consider his own mortality.
“We have a young player, Curtis Lazar, who I believe is going to be a star,” Murray said. “Would I ever like to be around in four years when he becomes the player I know he is going to be. I won’t be, but that’s the type of thing that has driven me and kept me in the game.”