The family reunion went wonderfully.

"It was great," Terry Murray said with a smile, even if, a few months ago, that seemed highly improbable.

When Bryan Murray was dismissed as the coach of the Washington Capitals Jan. 15 and was replaced by his brother, Terry, jaws dropped all over the sporting world. How could one brother take the place of another in such a situation? What would happen at the next family reunion back home near Shawville, Quebec? Would there be nasty stares or angry words exchanged between bites of hamburger and potato salad?

In recent years, the reunion of 50 Murray relatives had alternated between Bryan and Geri Murray's cottage on Johnson's Lake and that of Terry and Linda, whose cottage is on a different part of the lake. This one seemed to have all the makings of a real live family feud.

"There was a lot of natural buildup by the media, speculation by some people saying this or that might happen, but it didn't," Terry said. "It was no different."

It didn't hurt that by the time the Murray family congregated, Bryan was back coaching in the NHL. Just a few days earlier, on July 13, the Detroit Red Wings had made him their new coach and general manager.

Tonight, the brothers will meet again, as the Red Wings come to Capital Centre to face the Capitals at 7:30 for their only regular season appearance in Landover.

"I want to win. I want to beat him," Terry said with a laugh. "We were playing a volleyball game in front of the cottage. Here we were, Bryan and I are on the same team, and we're trying like hell to beat our nephews. We'll do anything we can to win. There is a competitive edge that will carry over to the game."

The last time brothers opposed each other as coaches in an NHL game was in 1977 when the Red Wings under Larry Wilson played the Colorado Rockies under John Wilson.

"I'm really proud of Terry, that he's now a head coach and very successful in this early stage of his career," Bryan Murray said. "But it's not only coaching against Terry and not only going back to the Cap Centre, it's competing against guys that I was on the ice with, pretty much every day. It's a special feeling. It's a game I want to compete well in and I want to be proud of my team now."

The Red Wings are very much his team, given that he holds the on-ice and off-ice reins. Although his critics pointed to the Capitals' playoff troubles, Murray was a winner with Washington. In all or part of nine seasons, his record was 366-276-83, a winning percentage (.562) among the top 10. His teams went to the playoffs seven times.

The Red Wings, who opened the season with a 3-3 tie Thursday night in New Jersey, are one of the original six NHL teams. But they failed to make the playoffs last season. Jacques Demers, the popular coach, was fired and general manager Jim Devellano was moved to the less powerful administrative post of senior vice president.

In recent years, the Red Wings have suffered from off-ice troubles, including the drinking problems of Petr Klima (now with Edmonton) and the arrest and conviction of Bob Probert for drug smuggling. On the ice, Detroit has one of the game's most talented players in Steve Yzerman, but it's had a reputation for not working very hard or playing as a team.

"Some of the players, as well as others, have told me that the practices are now harder, more structured, more disciplined," Murray said. "I think just looking at it from my point of view, I knew I needed to have some structure to the organization if I was to have any success at all. I think that our best chance, off ice, is to make sure things are organized and done on a regular basis and, on ice, to be a little more disciplined."

Murray tries to get some office work done before going to the locker room at 9:45 a.m. for a 10:30 practice. He spends time in the locker room because he is still learning about the players and they about him. Then comes three or four more hours in the office.

"I didn't have anything to do with contracts in Washington, other than sometimes in evaluations David {Poile, Capitals general manager} would ask me questions," Murray said. "That's a real time-consuming thing, going back and forth with people and agents."

Murray said he is still in contact with Poile, the man who fired him last season, and "we've talked a lot. I've called David a couple times for advice on some things. We're in a fraternity of sorts in that we want to be individually successful with our franchises, but we can help each other a little bit.

"I have a lot of respect for David and what he's done administratively in Washington. He's one of the good people in the league. No question about that."

The Capitals had lost eight straight games -- their longest losing streak since 1981-82 -- when Poile made the coaching change.

"His confidence, qualifications and the job he did here were never in question," Poile said. "Six or eight months later, you'd like to be able to tell a person exactly why you made a change. But it comes back to the idea that we made a change to make a change. I didn't feel comfortable saying it that night and don't feel comfortable saying it today.

"I think the relationship has been very good. We have a mutual respect for each other and the jobs we do. I think we've gotten over the hump, in terms of letting Bryan go, and I think we will have a stronger relationship as both of our hockey careers progress."

For the longest time this spring, it didn't look as if Murray's career would progress. In the weeks after Terry Murray guided the Capitals to their best playoff performance in history, Bryan found himself the second choice for several jobs.

Teams usually make coaching and managerial changes before the June draft. The Red Wings waited longer to choose, and their decision to sign Murray to a three-year contract helped make the 1990 Murray family reunion a splendid success.

"I won the horseshoe contest," Bryan Murray said proudly. "The one thing about our family that a lot of people wouldn't understand, necessarily, is that we're a big family, but we're very close. Maybe we don't talk every day . . . but as we grew up, we grew closer together. That part never changed."