- The Washington Times - Monday, May 28, 2007

Bryan Murray is 64, his hair now white but his frame still solid. His posture behind the bench is much the same as it was Nov. 11, 1981, when he was named coach of the Washington Capitals — mentally alert, arms folded across his chest, eyes glaring at a player, waiting to devour him verbally for a mistake.

Pity the referee who approaches Murray to explain a botched call.

“There’s never any doubt in your mind where you stand with him,” said Daniel Alfredsson, the Swedish-born captain of Murray’s Ottawa Senators. “He explains things to you but does it in such a way that it builds your confidence, doesn’t tear you down.”

Murray tonight will coach in his first Stanley Cup Finals, a best-of-seven series against the Anaheim Ducks that some believe might be Murray’s last chance to win a Cup. He has been there twice before as the general manager of the Florida Panthers in 1996 and four years ago as the general manager of the Ducks but never as a coach.

He is in the final year of a three-year contract, and nobody is sure what will happen next, win or lose. After living as a hockey nomad for 30-some years, he has returned to the area where he was born and where he will retire.

But even if he wins the Cup, Murray will not necessarily quit coaching. He passionately loves the job, one he keeps returning to even though it is not as financially rewarding as being in upper management and carries enough stress to eat away the strongest stomach.

Ottawa is the capital of Canada, a city in far eastern Ontario on the border with Quebec. Murray was born in Shawville, Quebec, a town of 1,500 about a 45-minute drive northwest of the capital, an English-speaking enclave on the Ottawa River surrounded by a French-speaking province.

The family lived in a three-bedroom bungalow in which everybody got to know each other quite well. Clarence and Rhoda Murray had a bedroom, the five girls had a bedroom, and the five boys had a bedroom. There was no electricity; coal-oil lamps lit the house. There was a radio — powered by an extension cord from a neighbor’s house — so the boys could listen to NHL games from Toronto.

The boys all played hockey and played well, though they all had what would be described today as an “edge.” They were rough — “mean” might be a better word — and more than willing to stand up for one another.

“You never play for fun,” the boys’ father taught them. “You play to win.”

Perhaps it was Clarence’s advice that moved Murray back behind the bench from the front office. Murray had been overseas scouting for Anaheim after the 2003-04 season when he got word the Senators had sought permission to talk to him about coaching. The lure of getting his name on the Stanley Cup was too much to pass on.

“It was a tough decision at the time but the right decision,” Murray told the Ottawa Sun.

The Senators were exiting bankruptcy, some of the players and support personnel hadn’t been paid and the league was about to enter a season-long lockout. The timing appeared to be horrible.

Said Murray: “It was a good job. The big issue was, first of all, I enjoy coaching. I enjoy being around the players on a daily basis. It was my home area. I’d been away for years, and I thought it was an opportunity for myself and my family to reconnect. That was certainly a part of the consideration.

“I almost feel like a young guy again being back on the ice on a daily basis, being around these kids.”

When play resumed, the Senators lost key players because of the salary cap, and the season started badly. At one point during the first quarter of this season, the club had just eight wins in 20 games, the defense was beyond porous, there was no offense, injuries were mounting and the cry for Murray’s scalp was pretty much unanimous.

Murray never stopped believing, never stopped teaching. He went back to the fundamentals to get things turned around.

“His leadership throughout our tough times was crucial,” Alfredsson said. “He was poised, and I think that reflected on us. That’s why we were able to break out of it.”

The big wing then quoted words Murray used more than a quarter of a century before when he got his first shot in the NHL with the Caps.

“He said you can’t control everything that goes around,” Alfredsson said. “You just got to worry about the guys next to you and play for each other. And he was pretty blunt about it. He said possibly if we don’t win the next few games there will be changes. ‘I might be gone,’ and he knew that’s the way it was. But he believed in us, and we were able to turn it around.”

The club’s new owner, Eugene Melnyk, stepped in at that point, uttered three words (“We’re with you”) and that was that, Murray said.

“That had a big impact. [It was] a big factor,” the coach told the Sun. “It sent a reassurance we are doing the right things, we are going forward and we do have a chance here.”

From that point on, the Senators went 53-18-8 heading into tonight’s game.

Nine of the 10 siblings (only Terry stays away for extended periods) remain connected to Shawville. Bryan is on the road often from nearby Ottawa to his hometown to take his mother, now 87, out for a coffee or dinner or a Mother’s Day breakfast, which he did the day after beating the Buffalo Sabres in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals May 12.

The bungalow is not the same these days; Rhoda took care of that. Her late husband — he died two years ago just shy of 97 — put repairs and other things off, which infuriated his wife.

After Clarence died, Bryan said, his mother grabbed Terry and him and made them basically tear the tiny house apart, installing a new kitchen and bathroom and repacking insulation to make sure the roof didn’t leak.

Age was not a barrier for other things, not for Clarence. Bryan recalls a few years back reading the weekly paper in Shawville and noticing his father’s name was missing from the listing of the curling league leaders. Worried that something had happened, he called home.

“He was 95 and told me he quit because the skip had grown too old, didn’t have the killer instinct that you need to win,” Murray told the Globe and Mail of Toronto.

The skip in question was one of Bryan’s brothers. The killer instinct inside Bryan Murray, however, still burns as strong as ever.

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