Before he guided the Washington Capitals over the Calgary Flames here Friday night, Bryan Murray had another engagement. He served as godfather at the christening of Robert Bryan Murray Strumm.
It was Bob Strumm, the youngster's father, who lured a disillusioned Murray away from coaching retirement and a business career in Shawville, Quebec, in July 1979 to become coach of the Regina Pats. That marked the first step in a sequence that would bring Murray to Washington 28 months later and eventually lead to recognition as the National Hockey League's coach of the year.
Strumm had been general manager of the Billings (Mont.) Bighorns for two years and concurrently during the second season was a scout for the Capitals. When he moved to Regina as general manager, Strumm sifted at least two dozen coaching possibilities before an opportune phone call brought Murray to his attention.
"I wanted the best available coach and I went through a lot of names," Strumm recalled. "I must have gone through a dozen legitimate candidates and a dozen other names and I was stickhandling myself into a sticky situation, because I wasn't satisfied with any of them.
"One day, I was talking to Rog (Crozier, former Capitals official) and I told him my problem. He said Greenie (Gary Green, former Capitals coach) might know someone who was available . . . Greenie in turn said he had found Bryan Murray to be very impressive.
"I didn't even know where Shawville was, but I called Bryan and suggested he come out to Regina. He wasn't sure. He had just lost out on the Peterborough (Ontario) job and that disappointed him, and he wasn't anxious to go far from home.
"He called back in a few days, though, and said he wanted to at least come out and look at the situation. I'm sure in the meantime he had checked us out to see what kind of organization we were.
"We spent two days together and I don't think I've ever hit it off with a guy like that. We had the same interests, the same thoughts about hockey, the same intense desire to win. I offered him the job flat out after two days, but he wanted to go home and think about it. We were anxious to have him and I don't know how many times I called, but I know if I checked the phone bills, I'd find a lot.
"When he accepted, we were delighted, and the rest is history. We started slow, 4-6 after 10 games, but we wound up in the Memorial Cup final and, of course, the next year Bryan was in Hershey, and then he was off to Washington."
Strumm needed to be persuasive, because Murray had become disgusted with the absence of any interest from Ontario junior teams, although he had won four Ontario Tier Two titles and a national championship in five years.
Murray became involved in several businesses in Shawville and had been away from coaching completely for a year when he was considered for the Peterborough job, which went to current Philadelphia Coach Mike Keenan. Shortly after he agreed to coach the Pats, Murray received a feeler from the Oshawa Generals of the Ontario league.
"Although Bryan had accepted our offer, he had signed nothing with us," Strumm said. "It was just his word. It meant leaving his family behind and he probably could have pursued the other job nearer home.
"A lot of people buy a pair of shoes, then walk past another store and see something they like better, and go back and return the first pair. But Bryan had given us his word and that was it. He's that kind of a guy.
"There's something about Bryan -- a strength of character, an inner confidence -- that spreads to the people around him. He makes difficult things simple. He has the secret to communicating with others.
"Bryan always had a different coaching philosophy than any other I've seen. He said a lot of coaches started with simple things and built on them, but he preferred to start at the perimeter and work inward. He throws a lot at the guys and then refines the details."
Strumm recalled that Murray's life during his year in Regina revolved around his small apartment and the rink.
"Being married with a family, I could appreciate his situation being so far from home," Strumm said. "I'm sure he spent some long nights out here. I tried to spend a lot of time with him, as much as I could. We spent so many hours talking hockey it was scary.
"I still call Bryan frequently. Sometimes, players will give me blank stares about something and I ask Bryan to simplify things for me. He's a remarkable guy, one of the greatest people I've ever met."
And that's why Strumm's first son bears the names Bryan Murray.