Bryan Murray had coached university and junior A hockey for nine years before he found his way to the WHL.
Murray, who died Saturday at the age of 74 after battling colon cancer for three years, spent four years at MacDonald College in Montreal and then was with the CJHL’s Rockland Nationals for five seasons.
As the Nationals, a junior A team, were concluding their 1978-79 season, the Regina Pats were putting the wraps on one of the most abysmal seasons in their history — they finished with 18 victories, five ties and 49 losses. That left them last in the WHL’s four-team East Division and out of the playoffs.
Before the 1979-80 season arrived, the Pats would have new ownership (the Saskatoon-based Pinder family, along with three Regina businessmen — Will Klein, Gord Knowlton and Ross Sneath). They also would have a new general manager in Bob Strumm, who also owned a piece of the action. He would hire a new head coach.
Strumm had been the general manager of the WHL’s Billings Bighorns for two seasons. (They would play in Billings through 1981-82, then morph into the Nanaimo Islanders, New Westminster Bruins and, finally, Tri-City Americans.)
The man Strumm picked to get the Pats turned around was Bryan Murray, a native of Shawville, Que.
Strumm had hoped to hire Terry Simpson away from the Prince Albert Raiders, but Simpson chose to stay put. Now it was mid-July and Strumm, who admitted to having put all of his eggs in Simpson’s basket, didn’t have a coach.
Strumm got Murray’s name through former NHL goaltender Roger Crozier, who now was an assistant GM with the NHL’s Washington Capitals. The Capitals had just hired Gary Green from the OHL’s Peterborough Petes to coach their AHL affiliate, the Hershey Bears. Crozier touched base with Green, who came up with Murray’s name.
“He’ll tell you that he was considering retirement and going back to teaching school,” Strumm told Rob Vanstone of the Regina Leader-Post in the spring of 2007 as Murray and Senators prepared to play in the Stanley Cup final. “He’d had enough of (junior A) and if he couldn’t move up at that stage of his life, he was going to back to teaching. It’s funny. Now he’s the fifth-winningest coach in NHL history.”
All Murray did with the Pats was get them into the Memorial Cup in what may have been the greatest coaching job of his long career.
This was in a time before a host team gained an automatic berth into major junior hockey’s championship tournament. In those days, it was a three-team affair, featuring the OHL, QMJHL and WHL champions.
The 1980 tournament had been awarded to the cities of Brandon and Regina. It would open with three games in Brandon — the Wheat Kings had won the WHL title in 1979, but were mediocre in 1980 — and finish up in Regina.
Murray and the Pats made sure it would be a success by going 47-24-1 — an amazing 52-point improvement — then going on to win the WHL’s playoff championship.
Things didn’t go as well in a Memorial Cup tournament that also featured the Petes and the QMJHL’s Cornwall Royals. You may recall that things turned ugly when Regina fans accused the Petes of throwing the final game of the round-robin — after leading 4-1 in the second period, they dropped a 5-4 decision to the Royals — something that resulted in the Pats being eliminated. Cornwall then beat Peterborough, 3-2 in OT, to win the tournament.
“He’s a special coach,” Strumm told Vanstone. “He’s one of the few guys I’ve ever seen who starts at the outside and works to the inside with the details. He kind of lets the guys have fun and go for it offensively and he does a lot of attack drills early, because offence is fun and defence is hard work.
“As the season progresses, then he starts to tighten and tighten and tighten and bring it to the core for the final 20 games of the season with all the details and everything. It was really interesting.
“Most coaches start with the little details and defensive hockey first and then work to the outer limits, but he did it the opposite — at least in Regina, and we won.”
Murray’s Regina team had five 100-point scorers — Doug Wickenheiser (170), Ron Flockhart (130), defenceman Darren Veitch (122), Brian Varga (118) and Mike Blaisdell (109).
Goaltender Bart Hunter, who wasn’t on the roster when training camp started, would play in 69 of 72 regular-season games, going 45-21-1, 4.06, .884. (Hunter had been the Memorial Cup MVP one year earlier when the Wheat Kings had added him to their tournament roster from the Portland Winterhawks.)
You could make the case that Murray was a major factor in putting the Pats back on Regina’s sporting map.
— Brent Parker (@Patguy65) August 12, 2017
But his stint in Regina would last only the one season.
The Pats tried to keep him by making a contract offer late in the season. Murray was torn, because his family had stayed at home in Shawville, Que., where there was a hotel and a sporting goods store.
When the 1980-81 season began, Murray wasn’t in Regina. Rather, he was the head coach of the Hershey Bears. On Nov. 11, 1981, Murray was named Washington’s head coach.
And thus would begin an NHL career — head coach, general manager, advisor — that lasted until his death on Saturday. At the end, he was a senior advisor with the Ottawa Senators.
One only had to tour social media to learn just how beloved Murray was throughout the hockey community.
Earlier this week, the Senators added Bobby Strumm to their coaching staff. He is Bob Strumm’s son. Bryan Murray was Bobby’s godfather.
In fact, Bobby’s full name is Robert Bryan Murray Strumm.
David Shoalts of The Globe and Mail has a piece on Bryan Murray right here.
The Canadian Press has a story right here.
My deepest sympathy to Bryan's family and friends.
— Kevin Shaw (@theblueliner) August 12, 2017
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Proud of all the players and Staff. What an honour and special experience to Coach for Hockey Canada! #@HC_Men pic.twitter.com/rUY65Fv46N
— Brent Kisio (@Brent_Kisio) August 12, 2017
Team Canada won its ninth Ivan Hlinka Memorial tournament in 10 years on Saturday, beating the host Czech Republic, 4-1, in Breclav. . . . F Jack McBain of the OJHL’s Toronto Jr. Canadiens had a goal and two assists as Canada won the summer U-18 tournament for the 21st time in 27 years. . . . Brent Kisio of the Lethbridge Hurricanes was Team Canada’s head coach. Included on the roster were six WHLers — F Luka Burzan (Moose Jaw Warriors), F Jackson Shepard (Kamloops Blazers), F Nolan Foote (Kelowna Rockets), D Ty Smith (Spokane Chiefs), D Jett Woo (Moose Jaw) and D Caleb Addison (Lethbridge). Khore Elliott of the Victoria Royals was the athletic therapist, with Gord Cochran (Regina Pats) the equipment manager. . . . Next year, the tournament will be held in Canada for the first time when it is held in Edmonton.
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The AJHL’s Calgary Canucks have added Darryl Olsen to their staff as an assistant coach, while also announcing that team president Pat Loyer will serve as the general manager in 2017-18. Olsen joins head coach Colin Birkas, who is heading into his first season, and assistant Jason Hanna on the coaching staff. . . . Olsen spent last season with the AJHL’s Drumheller Dragons, serving at various times as general manager, interim head coach and assistant coach. . . . Hanna has seven years of AJHL coaching experience on his resume. . . . The Canucks also announced that Kevin Sajinovic will return for a fifth season as goaltending coach.