Bryan Murray once was a successful high school basketball coach in Quebec, which may help to explain why he screams loud and long behind the Washington Capitals' bench, frequently becoming involved in verbal disputes with referees as well as opposing coaches and players.

The latest incident in the burgeoning Murray legend occurred during the Capitals' 3-1 victory over Montreal at Capital Centre Friday night, when he was popped in the head by a water bottle thrown by the Canadiens' Chris Nilan.

Not long ago, the New York Islanders' Duane Sutter whacked Murray in the leg with his stick as the teams left the ice following the second period of a game.

In past seasons, Murray has been involved in confrontations with assistant coaches Mike Corrigan of Pittsburgh, who also threw a water bottle at Murray; Ricky Ley of Hartford, and Wayne Thomas of the New York Rangers.

Although the Capitals are the least-penalized team in the National Hockey League, Murray's penalty total of 24 minutes, two gross misconducts and two bench minors for protests to officials, tops the bench penalty total of all other NHL teams.

Before and after games, in contrast to the aforementioned charge sheet, Murray is calm and relatively soft-spoken. No matter how heartbreaking a defeat, he will meet with the media and answer the dumbest of questions without rancor. All of which leads one to wonder whether there are two Bryan Murrays, in the Jekyll-Hyde tradition.

"There are no two different guys, although I certainly react with emotion at times," Murray said. "Certainly, I've had words or comment with a few people. I don't pretend to hide the fact that if a referee makes a call that I don't consider in line with the game, I respond.

"Some guys are always blowing up in the press conference after the games, although they're prim and proper during the games. Well, I'm less a complainer after the games than most, but if I think a referee has blown a call, I'll tell him on the spot.

"When I yell at a referee about a call, it's a single incident, then it's over. I'm not trying to intimidate the refs, I'm just trying to call their attention to something I feel they've mishandled. If refs make comments to me, I often react to them, too. But I haven't thrown any chairs at them or anything like that.

"Normally, I don't worry about the opposition players. I'm more concerned with getting my guys involved. I feel part of my responsibility is to get emotionally involved. When I do yell at another team's player, I never talk about a good play or a bad play.

"What gets me upset is when some big stud will run a guy, usually from behind, that he knows doesn't want to play that kind of game. There are big guys out there if he wants to try that stuff, and sure I have to say Chris Nilan and Duane Sutter are two I've been involved with in the past. They're big, strong guys, but they always seem anxious to take on a smaller guy who they know doesn't want to fight.

"When you have contact, and emotion displayed, and people are hammered over the boards into the benches, you tend to get pretty involved in the game."

Muuray says it's like basketball.

"But I think the basketball coaches in the NCAA are much more vocal than I am. They're running up and down the sidelines screaming and yelling. It gets like that in a game with flow and contact, rather than football where every play is designed in the huddle."

A recent article in the Toronto Globe and Mail portrayed Murray as "a fiery but calculating manipulator. Everything he does and says during a game is contrived and premeditated with the ultimate goal of getting an edge."

"That was exaggerated like hell," Murray said. "You react to situations and there are certainly people I react to or am involved with. Like Nilan -- I know he'll get a little carried away. But I don't think I'm the only guy who does that, by any means. A lot of guys yell at Scott Stevens because they think they can get him going overboard and most coaches get on the referees.

"I've always, always been involved in the game. I don't take much time off -- and I have got the good voice."

Asked whether other coaches might dislike him, a fact that has been made apparent by the comments of a few, Murray said, "Obviously. Words are cheap, but I don't know that I've had any confrontations except in competitive situations.

"None of us are buddies, but I don't think any of us are enemies. I'm trying to beat them and they're trying to beat me. But when the game's over, the game's over."

When Friday's game was over, Murray and Montreal Coach Jacques Lemaire exchanged a few words on the subject of the water bottle and the timeout Murray called with four seconds left and a two-goal lead. Neither was heated in discussing the matter later.

Asked whether he would be upset if an opponent called a timeout in similar circumstances, Murray showed his ability to understand both sides of an argument, saying, "Certainly. I've had that happen to me and I was upset about it. That's only natural. But Al Jensen was playing really well and I didn't want them to score against him. I wanted Scott Stevens, Rod Langway and Doug Jarvis out there, and they needed a rest."

There was an implication that if the Canadiens didn't like it, that was just fine.

A number of players became ill following the game and were unable to practice yesterday. Among them was Jensen, who is scheduled to face Pittsburgh this afternoon at Capital Centre . . . Mikko Leinonen, the Finnish forward signed as a free agent March 12, arrived Friday night, skated yesterday and probably will play today . . . After yesterday 5-3 victory by Philadelphia over New Jersey, the Capitals trail the Flyers by eight points.