Murray's new mission: Build a winner around Flyers' Lindros

September 25, 1994|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,Sun Staff Writer

Terry Murray looks the same, acts the same and dresses in the same impeccably styled gray suit he wore when he was coaching the Washington Capitals.

Now he is head coach of the Philadelphia Flyers, and he has spent the last two nights coaching against his former team.

Friday he was booed when he walked on the ice at U.S. Air Arena, where he had led the Capitals to 163 victories, 134 defeats and 28 ties over the past four years.

His revenge, had he wanted any, would have come in his team's 2-1 victory. But Murray was not vindictive when he was fired last Jan. 27, after having spent 12 years in the organization, and nothing had changed this weekend.

"As you go through this business over 25 years as a player and a coach, you go through a lot of teams," he said. "I've taken a lot of good memories with me from the Capitals. It is good to be back, to see old friends and recall good memories."

But mostly, it is simply good to be back in the NHL.

"Let's be very clear," said Murray, who was ousted when his team was 20-23-4 and not among playoff qualifiers at the time. "I wasn't the one looking for a change. When you start a job, you want to finish it. And when I look at the Capitals, I like to think a small part of what I did contributed to their being in the playoffs 13 straight years.

"But stuff happens. I just wish it had happened differently. Still, you know the old saying, the grass is sometimes just as green on the other side of the fence."

And it feels good to Murray to be back in the Flyers organization, where he spent six years of his playing career.

"I have good memories of those days too," he said. "A lot of the knowledge I have came in those six years. So it is exciting and there is renewed hope and energy in taking charge of a team that hasn't made the playoffs in five years."

He sees it as a challenge similar to the one faced when he and his brother, Brian, first came to the Capitals. At that time, Washington had gone eight years without making the postseason.

The Flyers, of course, have great expectations. They have the big guy, Eric Lindros.

"Going to a team with an Eric Lindros is special," Murray said. "You go through the teams that have been real great teams in the last 15 years or so, you always identify those teams with at least one great player -- Gretzky, Lemieux, Mark Messier, Patrick Roy. I think, in order to get to where you want to go and have the opportunity to get the job done, you need to have that guy in place, and the Flyers have him.

"Now we need a lot of other things to be done to build it up around him."

Building the structure around Lindros is what Murray is doing. In Washington he had a veteran team that, while never completely satisfying the fans, did know the meaning of winning. Murray said the coaching style he used with the Capitals doesn't wash in Philly.

"You have to change," he said. "Here's a team that hasn't made the playoffs in five years. You can't just start off like two years ago in Washington, where we were second in the National Hockey League. So you make changes. You eventually want to get back to the ideas you know that can work, but you have to work to get there.

"We have to go back to the fundamentals of the game."

A year ago, the Flyers scored 294 goals. Only five other teams in the entire NHL scored more. Unfortunately, Philadelphia gave up 314 and only three other teams beat that number.

"We're just learning how to play the game," said Murray. "How to play well in our own zone. How to play well in the neutral zone. How to play well on the defensive side of the zone.

"It's a lot of teaching. Not many scrimmages. More practice sessions, blackboard talks, some walk-through drills, just getting right down to the bare fundamentals.

"You're not only trying to get on-the-ice performance, but you're trying to change an attitude. You're trying to put something there that has been missing there for a long time. You're trying to build a team game."

At U.S. Air Arena Friday, Murray looked across the expanse separating the Capitals' locker room from that of the Flyers. It was the first time he had returned with the opposition, but he had no trouble remembering which locker room to go to. No trouble going to the right bench at the start of the game.

"The change is made," he said, and then, when an old acquaintance happened by and asked Murray how he likes his new life, the former Capitals coach shrugged his shoulders, "It's just a different sweater, you know. It's a good life."

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