When the National Hockey League schedule came out a couple of months ago, Bryan Murray took a peek and noticed his Detroit Red Wings would be on the road for the first three games, then return home for their opener against Calgary.
Tough schedule, he thought, especially for an inexperienced team coming off a last-place finish in the Norris Division.
Upon closer inspection, he noted after facing New Jersey (a 3-3 tie last night), the Washington Capitals would be next up (tomorrow). It would be strange, going into the Cap Centre for about the millionth time and heading for the visitors' locker room. He hoped he would remember to bear left not right.
"Truthfully," he said, "I didn't know it was going to be this big a deal."
It's large, of course, because before becoming general manager and coach in Detroit, Murray was the man who led the Caps out of the mire to not only respectability but the upper regions of the NHL.
Replacing Bryan after nearly eight seasons, during which the team won about a hundred games more than it lost, was his younger brother Terry. Everybody had a field day with that one, the so-called historical significance of brother replacing brother, etc.
"I thought that was all past, but I guess it had to come up again as soon as I got back in coaching and our teams met," he said. "I'm sort of glad we're coming in early, it will all be part of the excitement of starting a new season."
The Caps had an 18-24-4 record last January and they were playing virtually without defensemen when Bryan Murray was handed a pink slip. Terry, coaching the Baltimore Skipjacks after serving as his brother's assistant for many years, moved down the parkway and the club went 18-14-2 during the last few months.
The season record of 36-38-6 was the team's worst since 1981-82. But, for the first time in seven years, Washington was able to win playoff series back-to-back, get out of the division. Voila, the campaign was deemed a success.
Thinking back over it, Bryan says, "I'm very proud of Terry and what happened for him after I left. He did a great job under the pressure that was on all of us."
If you get the feeling Murray bears no malice toward his old club, you're pretty close to right. He was disappointed when the ax fell, naturally, especially considering the circumstances and his years of outstanding service.
"But, heck, it's a business. Anyone in it realizes that. It would be self-defeating to go on and on about it. Get on with things."
Most assumed Murray would latch onto a job as soon as the schedule finished and teams started looking ahead to this season. He was mentioned for a couple of positions, but, strangely, it wasn't until July he got the call from the Red Wings.
"I went in to talk about the general manager's job," he recalled, "but then it got around to the coaching position, too. It was about a month before I got hired."
Late, with not an abundance of time and a lot to do. First thing Murray did is give his longtime assistant and last year's Skipjacks coach Doug MacLean a call and an offer. "He's helped me a great deal in the short time he's been here," said Bryan. "Besides knowing exactly how we do things, he has great contact with the players."
It didn't take the combination long to figure in which direction to head the Wings. "We've sent down the vets and are going to give the young guys a shot," Murray continued.
"We've got an 18-year-old, a kid 19, we'll be going with a rookie line and another rookie on defense. Oh, yeah, we've got a young goalie, too. I figure it will be a major accomplishment if we can get in the hunt [contend]."
The same might be said for Terry Murray's team if it was playing in the Patrick Division of a few years ago (strong) as opposed to today (weak). The defensive-oriented team appears to be thin on the back line and, as always, there's the constant question concerning who's going to score goals.
"It'll be nice seeing the guys who played for me and who I've known so long. But once the hype is over and they drop the puck, the game takes over," said Murray. "Then we play in Philadelphia and come home to play Calgary. Pray for us will you, we need a good start."
That was something the Caps rarely had when Bryan was calling the shots here. "Hey, that was the team, not the coach," he reminded. Time to see.