'He was one of the calming voices': Eugene Melnyk on Bryan Murray


Somewhere, up there in the heavens, you have to think that Bryan Murray is standing behind the bench of a pretty good hockey team and bringing a steady, guiding hand.

That was the way Murray was in life and it’s a big reason why the people at the Canadian Tire Centre will miss having the 74-year-old former Ottawa Senators general manager around after he lost his three-year battle with cancer Saturday morning.

Not only did Murray leave behind his wife Geri along with his daughters Heide and Brittany, he also left a big void in the hockey world. For 35 years, Murray was involved in the National Hockey League in one way or another, as a GM or coach, before spending his final season as a senior adviser in hockey operations with Ottawa.

The Senators never really thought about Murray not being around because he’s always just been there. He could be counted on to tell a funny story when it may have been needed the most or he was a shoulder to lean on because there wasn’t a whole lot that Murray hadn’t been through during his storied career.

“It sucks … It really does suck,” owner Eugene Melnyk said in a telephone interview with the Citizen Saturday night. “People just always expected to have him around. He was always around. He was always a calming influence. If you looked up in the middle of chaos for soft eyes to look back, that was him.

“When guys were all melting when we had guys hurt and we wondering who was going to play, (Murray) would come in and it’s almost like he’s been there and done that. He’d say this is the best thing for you guys to do. He brought that calmness to the whole organization.”

After taking over the head coaching duties in 2005-06, Murray moved into the role of GM following the club’s trip to the Stanley Cup final in 2007. There were ups, there were downs, there good times and there were difficulties but always Melnyk stuck by Murray because he knew he could lead the team out of troubled waters.

“It was his experience,” Melnyk said. “There were times that he made moves, with all due respect, that didn’t work out but I really believed that in the end his experience would always win in the game.

“The guys with experience have seen it, they’ve done it and they won’t make the same mistakes twice. That’s what I always banked on with (Murray).”

In his new role last season, Murray, who handed the reins over to general manager Pierre Dorion in April 2016, was there to be a voice of reason and lend a hand when advice was sought on what should be done next.

“He was one of the calming voices,” Melnyk said. “The last 18 months he had skin in the game but he could sit back and say whatever he wanted. If he didn’t like something that was happening, he thought it was going the wrong way or he thought a player wasn’t what we thought he was, he could say something.

“He was kind of the matriarch of that group. Pierre is the guy in charge but you always had that quiet voice that you could look to and you could take (Murray) aside to get his opinion to see what he thought. He’d been through it before.”

Melnyk had a special relationship with Murray. They weren’t just an owner and a GM, they were friends. Melnyk, who required a life-saving liver transplant in May 2015, recalled sitting with Murray at a Toronto hospital during some of Melnyk’s darkest hours before a donor was found.

“He was one of the few that came to the hospital to visit me,” Melnyk said. “I sat with him for two hours, just me and him, and I asked him what it was like (to be going through what Murray was battling)

“He was very fatherly in that way to me. He gave me great advice and that came from a guy who was going through it. It was tough for him but he decided to look the other way at it. He decided to say, ‘Screw it, these are the cards I was dealt, and I’ve got to play them out’. And he did.”

Not only did Murray battle bravely while undergoing chemotherapy treatments, he also told his story publicly to help raise awareness about colonoscopy screening.

“You have to admire his strength,” Melnyk said.

It’s the strength Murray brought to the table that will be sorely missed.

Twitter: @sungarrioch

Sidebar: Hockey Hall of Fame for Murray?

If Eugene Melnyk has his way, Bryan Murray will be honoured for his lifetime in hockey.

The Ottawa Senators owner would love to see the legendary former Senators general manager and coach installed into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Murray, 74, who had 620 wins behind an NHL bench, would be a perfect candidate for the builder’s category because he touched and influenced the lives of many during his career in the league.

“Absolutely he belongs in the Hall of Fame,” said Melnyk. “He was that calibre if you want to pick in the modern era. In the last thirty years if you look at the top three or four general managers, he’d be there. This guy was consistently there. He was always in your face, doing stuff, he was always active.

“He could be as tough as the next guy but he was always very shrewd. He’d make one move just so he could make another. We’re going to miss that experience.”