Bryan's home sweet home

CHRIS STEVENSON -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 11:36 AM ET

SHAWVILLE, QUE. -- It is the dream he might have had on one of those cold winter nights in the small house here in this feisty Valley town, in the small room he shared with four other brothers. In another room, five sisters shared the bunk beds.

It was a dream hard to even imagine back then while burrowed under the covers next to his brother in the double bed, two other brothers in the other double, yet another in the single bed in the back of the house their father, Clarence, had built on King St.

Their world then wasn't much bigger than this small town, this house, their school up the street, the rink covered with the sheet metal dome a mile away.

A life in the National Hockey League must have seemed so very far away.

Bryan Murray stands in the room now next to his mother, Rhoda. The sun streams through the window.

There is just a double bed in here now and a big wardrobe on one wall. Hanging on the wardrobe are a series of baseball hats of varying colours, each showing the logos of the NHL teams with which Bryan and brother Terry have been associated, the hats brought home for their father, Clarence, who recently died.

Little boys in little towns dream of being in the NHL.

They all want to be players, but it doesn't wind up that way for many.

Some wind up coaches or managers.

Life's road, like the narrow roads in these parts on the edge of the Gatineau hills, can take some unexpected turns.

They probably never dreamed it possible in this little room, just off the kitchen, but now here it is, the string of hats in this little house marking Bryan Murray's remarkable journey.

The little boys grow up to be men, with their own dreams, their own secret aspirations. For some, the dreams come true.

It is a crystal clear day, the pavement clear in front of us, the pristine snow blindingly white as Murray guides his Cadillac station wagon westward on the road towards Shawville, his home town hard by the Ottawa River.

It is a frigid winter morning and we've left Bryan Murray's new house in the Carlingwood neighbourhood with precious cargo aboard. A loaf of banana bread and some hamburger soup destined for the family homestead in Shawville, cooked by Murray's wife, Geri (the soup from a recipe from Darryl Sutter's wife).

There are other items on Murray's "Honey Do" list on this winter's morning, including a stop at the pharmacy in Shawville and other packages to be dropped off.

This wasn't the way it was supposed to be. Murray's car should have been heading westward at this time of the day, but not to Shawville. He should have been heading to the Corel Centre to work as the Senators coach. In this year of the lockout, things are out of whack.

It has taken a string of remarkable circumstances to bring Murray here, today, driving into his home town on a cold winter's day.

The road seemed pretty clear just a few months ago. Another couple of years as the GM of the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, a slow fade into retirement, maybe some work as a consultant, more time at his cottage north of Shawville.

Murray had taken the Ducks from nowhere to the Stanley Cup final in 2003, but living in a condo alone wasn't cutting it for him. Geri, recovering from shoulder surgery, was at their place in Florida.

The competitive fire, stoked as a kid in Shawville, still burned in Murray, but the SoCal lifestyle wasn't the lifestyle for a guy from a little Ottawa Valley town. He would pass more cars in five minutes than he would in a month on this road.

Then came the phone call from the Disney executive while Murray was at the world championships last spring in Prague, word that the Senators were asking permission to talk to him to become their coach.

"It had never crossed my mind," said Murray.

Slightly stunned, he took a timeout. He told the Disney guys not to do anything until the next week.

"But as I thought about it, you get excited about things like that," he said. "For the balance of the week I started thinking a great deal about it. Making notes, the pros and cons. Another Disney executive called me. 'If you want to talk to them, don't feel you're slighting us. If you want to talk, we know it's your home area. Why not talk to Ottawa and see where it goes?' "

A few days later, Murray was the fifth coach of the Ottawa Senators, the only team, he says, for which he would have left Anaheim.

Since the Senators had come into the league in 1992, Murray had quietly wished for this chance, a chance to coach his "home-town" team, a chance to win a championship at home.

"I've always had a soft spot for the Senators. In '96 when we went to the finals in Florida (with the Panthers, where Murray was GM), I said I would have liked it to be Ottawa, really."

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This is the community which once chased a bylaw officer from the Quebec language police out of town. It is a fiercely proud community, hanging on with grim resignation to its anglo uniqueness. Canadian flags abound.

Over lunch at Cafe 349, one of the Murrays' favourite spots here, Bryan Murray sits across the table.

"Listen," he says, briefly listening to the conversation, in French, at the next table. "You can hear Shawville changing. "

He looks a little wistful.

The Murrays are a big part of the fabric of Shawville.

The town's spirit runs deep in the Murrays and now, with Bryan's return, nine of the 10 kids are in the area and Terry, an assistant coach with the Philadelphia Flyers, comes back in the summers.

Bill runs the sporting goods store and Barrie the auto parts store, both in the same building.

'LEFT-HANDED FIGHTER'

They played on the teams which represented Shawville, helped build the community's pride and identity. Bill was a big lefty on the mound and "a left-handed fighter," who was invited to the Toronto Maple Leafs camp, said Bryan.

"It all starts with pride being from the area and that has a little to do with the sports teams.

"There was a lot of farming and people gathered on Saturday or Wednesday to do their grocery shopping. The streets were busy. It was a town within itself. You didn't need to go outside. That established an attitude, a pride in the community that lasted a long time."

Bryan played for the Shawville Pontiacs, an Intermediate club, at 14, along side men a dozen years older.

Clarence spent most of his time in Ottawa working for Ottawa Gas and Bryan helped raise the rest of the kids. They lived for a stretch in a draft farmhouse ("The coldest house we were ever in," said Rhoda) outside of town so they could rent out the house on King St.

Bryan and his brothers would walk into town to sneak into the arena to play, climbing up a snowbank and through a window when the caretaker was away.

In the summers, Bryan stacked firewood to earn money. As he got older, he poured cement, drove a big truck at the iron ore mine by the river. He would work 21 days in a row, four-to-midnight.

It gave him some money in his pocket and far more valuable, perspective.

"From that, you learned. ' I want to do more than that. That's a hard job, a hard life,'" he said. "But you meet a lot of really good people doing it."

Murray left Shawville to go to MacDonald College in Montreal, then returned to Shawville to teach. He went back to Macdonald College as the athletic director, but was unfulfilled.

He was drawn back to Shawville where he opened the sporting goods store and taught. He started coaching in the Central Junior Hockey League with Pembroke, where he had played, and won the Centennial Cup with the Rockland Nats in 1976.

BOUGHT HOTEL

In the late '70s, Bryan and Geri, along with one of his brothers and sister-in-law, bought the local hotel in Shawville.

"I was going to give up coaching and teaching and be a businessman," said Murray.

We're sitting in the bar area of the new building that stands on the site of that old hotel, which burned.

The other patrons nod a silent hello in Murray's direction while we sit and sip coffees, posters of the Senators and the Stanley Cup lining the walls.

"That lasted one year. I knew I didn't want to run a hotel. I like a beer as much as the next guy, but I wasn't happy being dependent on people drinking alcohol."

Word of Murray's ability behind the bench, meanwhile, was making its way westward. A job offer came from the Regina Pats of the Western Hockey League.

He begged Geri for the opportunity. "One year," he said.

Twenty-six years and 14 moves later, they are back home.

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As a rookie coach in the Western Hockey League, Murray earned his players' respect and that remains, to this day, the cornerstone of his career.

In one pre-season game, Murray, feeling his players were being taken advantage of, challenged an opposition coach.

"Murray, you always were a chickens--t," said the other coach before being pinned up against the wall behind the bench by Murray.

"You got the wrong Murray," hissed Bryan, his hands still wrapped around the other coach.

"That sounds like Bryan," said Darren Veitch over the phone from Phoenix, where the ex-NHLer is now a salesman for EBI Medical Systems, specializing in custom knee braces.

Veitch played for Murray on that Pats team (they went to the Memorial Cup), the next year in Hershey in the AHL (Murray was coach of the year) and the year after that in Washington, where they both made their NHL debuts.

"He was notorious. Ask any player or coach in the NHL, junior, anywhere," he said. "He wasn't afraid of verbal confrontation with the other coach. Coaches or players, anything to put them off their game.

"It was never anything crude. It was the way he put it across. He liked to say, 'You don't belong on the ice' or 'I'll kick your ass.' It was quite comical thinking back on it now."

Veitch said things were simple with Murray.

"I would call him a players' coach. He was fair. Respectful. That's the way it worked in our relationship. The game changed and our careers moved on, but it didn't change. If you came to play every night, he'd play you."

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Growing up in Shawville teaches a kid things. The older players on the Pontiacs took time before practice to show Murray a few things.

STOOD UP FOR TEAMMATES

You stood up for teammates, you stood up for your town.They were lessons learned early and have endured.

He has travelled and worked far and wide and now, with the Senators, the same lessons learned here in Shawville will be taught again.

"I think there are still a couple of needs, no question about it. I think there's an attitude adjustment that's needed," said Murray. "I don't think you can accept the fact that you continually get pushed and don't respond back.

"I think that plays on the players' minds whether it be the toughest guy or the softest guy on your team. Everybody wants support.

"I don't know if we can go very far if we don't do something about that."

THE FACT FILE

- Born: Dec. 5, 1942, Shawville, Que. n Named Senators coach: June 8, 2004. n NHL career: Senior vice-president and GM, Mighty Ducks of Anaheim 2002-04; coach, Anaheim, 2001-2002; vice-president and GM; Florida Panthers, 1994-2001 (also coached 1997-98); General manager, Detroit Red Wings, 1990-94 (also coached '90-93); Coach, Washington Capitals, 1981-90. n Coaching record: 1,057 games, 513-413-131. n Family: Wife, Geri, daughters Heide and Brittany. n Hobbies: Boating, fishing and swimming at his cottage north of Shawville; reading (Dan Brown and John Grisham).

We are driving around Shawville, seeing the house Murray bought when he first came back to teach, the high school where he taught up the road.

"You know that's going to be music to a lot of Senators' fans ears?" he's told.

"That's always been my approach," he said. "The first thing you do as a coach is you have to get the trust of your players. You get their trust by displaying you know what you are talking about and providing opportunity for the players who deserve opportunity. The other way you get trust is by showing them you will do whatever is necessary to support them. Sometimes it's just a pat on the back and a meeting in your office. Most of the time it's more than that. It's showing them that when one of your skill players gets run, they are going to be looked after. Sometimes it's yelling at a referee or yelling at an opposition player because he's not doing right by a particular player on your team."

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How would Bryan Murray, the coach and manager, evaluate Bryan Murray, the right winger?

"I played tough. I fought lots. I wasn't a great skater and that held me back. But I banged around. Good senior player, good college player, but I wasn't a pro. When I received my first teaching contract, the Philadelphia Flyers were just coming into the league. They called me. I had played senior hockey. Somebody had scouted me for the organization. They called and offered me an opportunity to go to their camp more than likely leaning to go and play minor hockey. That's when I said I know I'm not going to be a regular NHL player at this point in my life. I decided not to do that.

"I got back and started to teach. I started to coach and the kids really competed for me. Not to say there was an instant where I knew coaching was for me, but I knew we were doing a good job and it's what I wanted to do. People responded."

Why coaching?

"I guess when I played sports," said Murray, "I was always the guy who had the biggest mouth."

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Murray drives the car down King St., away from the small Murray family bungalow and towards the centre of town. We hit the only traffic light in Shawville.

"And it doesn't last long. Traffic doesn't get backed up too far," said Murray.

He smiles as we idle at the light.

"I'm a small-town guy, there's no question. I've always looked forward to coming home," he said. I"'ve always participated as much as I could in things happening around Shawville. I think going away was fine and being in the NHL made it easier. (Growing up in Shawville) were the fun times.

SHAWVILLE DIFFERENT

"As you get older those memories are what draw you back to where you are from. The things you did as a kid, the baseball and hockey teams ... Shawville is different now, I understand. But that's what kind of created an attachment that brings you back. You were part of something that was real important to the town.

"There's a sense of pride. I'm coach of the local NHL team. And there's lots of Ottawa fans up here. "I know there will be days when you don't win a hockey game when you will be analyzed and criticized. That's part of our game. There's a chance here for a real sense of pride, for the whole area, if this team could ever be a champion."

---

Now Rhoda, who has cheered quietly for the Senators, except when they were playing any of her sons' teams, can really root for the Senators, whenever they start playing again.

"I really can," she said with a smile.

"And tell people," said Bryan.

He has come full circle now, standing here in the room where he lived as a boy, standing here as a man, a secret ambition realized.

chris.stevenson@ott.sunpub.com


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