by Patrick Williams || AHL On The Beat
OTTAWA — Storied head coaches with AHL ties have been busy this month reaching new bench milestones in this city. Some 11 hours before Ottawa Senators head coach Bryan Murray collected NHL win number 600 in Tuesday evening’s 4-3 shootout win over the Edmonton Oilers at Scotiabank Place, the wily bench boss harkened back to his days with the Hershey Bears.
Murray shares an AHL pedigree with legendary Ottawa 67’s head coach Brian Kilrea, a three-time Calder Cup champion in the 1960’s with Springfield who coached his 2,000th OHL game on Feb. 2.
While Kilrea’s hold on this city is legendary and his background in the 1960’s-era AHL that included Eddie Shore and Don Cherry has been documented, less known is that Murray kicked off his pro coaching career in Hershey. "Lots of good things" came from that season in Hershey, according to Murray.
Murray would go on to earn those 600 NHL wins with Washington, Detroit, Florida and Anaheim before arriving in Ottawa in June 2004. Murray’s first NHL win came on Nov. 14, 1981 with a Capitals win at Hartford, and Murray later added a Jack Adams Award for his work with the Capitals in the 1983-84 season.
But before setting foot in the NHL, Murray headed to Chocolatetown prior to the 1980-81 season for his first pro job, an opportunity that allowed him to work under the eye of the legendary Frank Mathers.
Murray arrived in Hershey with just one season with the WHL’s Regina Pats to his name. The Washington Capitals, then in their first stint as the Bears’ NHL parent club, brought Murray aboard after a 47-win season with the Pats the season prior. The Shawville, Que., native would spend just one season in Hershey, but he made the campaign a memorable one for Bears followers.
With a roster that featured current Milwaukee Admirals head coach Claude Noel and long-time AHL star Tim Tookey, Murray piloted the Bears to a 47-24-9 mark, their best finish in 40 years. The first of many achievements came Murray’s way that season, as The Hockey News named Murray that season’s top minor-league coach.
The following fall saw the Capitals whisk him off to Washington and into the NHL’s coaching fraternity for good.
"We had a great team," Murray recalled at Tuesday’s post-morning skate gathering. "We had an unbelievable power play. We had a number of guys who couldn’t quite make the NHL, but we won a lot of games."
Making his first foray into the pro game provided an education, said Murray.
"I learned a lot just being around the players and how competitive they were and how disappointed they were when they didn’t make it to the NHL."
Along with his playing roster, working alongside Mathers, who at that point had nearly 30 years of pro experience in a variety of capacities, eased Murray’s transition into the pro game.
"I was fortunate. He was a terrific guy to be around, a real low-key guy, a real nice man. A real intelligent guy about the game."
Patrick Williams covers the AHL for SLAM! Sports and has an AHL blog at blog.canoe.ca/ahl