- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 24, 2007

In the fall of 1981 Bryan Murray was living on borrowed time, and he knew it. He was a teacher — and not a bad one — and a coach — pedigree undetermined — and asked his wife for just a few years to see if he could make a living as a hockey coach.

He had coached high school in Quebec, Tier II in the Western leagues, spent a successful season with the Regina Pats of the Western Hockey League and then found himself with the Hershey Bears in the American Hockey League. The parent Washington Capitals were once again searching for another head coach and Murray was asked if he wanted to interview — as a courtesy, of course.

There was only one problem. Word had it that Abe Pollin, the Caps’ owner, had all but hired the next coach — glib, media-savvy Don Cherry and his constant companion, Blue, an evil-tempered dog, who sat on the dashers and watched practice.

“I never met a man so thoroughly prepared for an interview in my life,” Pollin said years later after hiring Murray.

Earlier this week Murray, now coaching the Ottawa Senators and insisting to his wife that the job search is nearly over, won his 600th NHL game. He became just the fifth coach to do so (Scotty Bowman won 1,244; Al Arbour, 781; Dick Irvin Sr., 692, and Pat Quinn, 657). No one is even remotely close to those five.

Besides coaching in Washington, Murray was behind the bench in Detroit, Florida and Anaheim before moving back to the area where he was raised (Shawville, Quebec). Murray also spent 13 seasons as general manager of the Red Wings, Panthers and Ducks.

Murray coached the Caps for 672 games, from Nov. 11, 1981, to Jan. 14, 1990.At the end of a seven-game losing streak, he was replaced by his younger brother, Terry, who was being groomed for the spot while coaching the Baltimore Skipjacks.

Bryan Murray’s first full season in the league was an unqualified success. For the first time in their miserable eight years of existence, the Caps made the playoffs. They exited quickly, losing to the New York Islanders, who were en route to the Stanley Cup, but they were no longer a standing joke around the NHL.

But the Caps opened the 1983-84 season the same way they usually opened all other seasons. They dropped their first seven in a row and most of the games weren’t even close. General manager David Poile received a call from Pollin after loss No. 7, 3-0 to Hartford, suggesting that maybe the key parties should get together for breakfast the next morning.

Murray knew what that meant. There was plenty of hope after making the playoffs the previous spring but that had been mostly dashed after an 0-7 start. Perhaps coaching at Shawville High School wasn’t so bad after all.

As Murray remembered the meeting years later, there was some nervous small talk before Pollin asked the only question asked that day.

“Bryan, we’re off to an awfully slow start this season. Anything I can do?”

From that day forward, the Caps finished the season with a 48-20-5 record, the most wins in team history to that point; finished with more than 100 points (101) for the first time, made the playoffs again and beat Philadelphia in the first round before losing to the Islanders in the second round.


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