The NHL, and hockey at many levels, were profoundly saddened by the death of Bryan Murray, the inspirational long-time coach and general manager, on Saturday. In Prince Edward Island, Doug Maclean was mourning the loss of one of his best friends and surely his greatest influence and mentor in the game.
Maclean, a hockey commentator for Rogers Sportsnet, worked with Murray for years as an assistant coach with the Washington Capitals and Detroit Red Wings, then as coach with the Florida Panthers when Murray was general manager.
[OBITUARY: Former Senators GM Bryan Murray dies at 74]
But their relationship long predated their work with NHL teams.
"I met Bryan when I was an 18-year-old in the Central Junior Hockey League and he was the all-star coach," Maclean said. "I remember leaving that game, having listened to Bryan speak for two days to a group of us, thinking, 'Does this guy know his hockey or what?' "
The two men would renew acquaintances when Murray's coaching would bring him through Charlottetown in Maclean's home province of P.E.I., and they kept in touch, even if their paths didn't intersect for some time.
But when Maclean was fired by the St. Louis Blues in 1988, when he was an assistant under coach Jacques Martin, Murray called him to come to Washington for a talk. He would be hired by Murray, the Capitals coach, their friendship and working relationship flourishing there and later in Detroit and with Florida.
"Bryan was a mentor and a great friend, and it was all really pretty amazing," Maclean said. "Truth be known, if it wasn't for Bryan, I'm not in the NHL. Jacques Martin gave me a great chance in St. Louis, out of the University of New Brunswick, but Bryan really made my career.
"We were together in Washington, then five years in Detroit, and then we were together in Florida. He helped me get the job coaching the Columbus Blue Jackets (2002-03), putting in a good word for me. We stayed in touch, whether we were coaching or managing against each other. Every time we were against each other, we'd spend time together."
Video: Former coach, GM Bryan Murray dies at 74
Maclean and Murray were each fired in Washington in 1990, leaving them "to hang out together on a daily basis wondering what the heck we were going to do next."
They didn't wonder long. Murray was hired as general manager and coach in Detroit for the 1990-91 season, and when Maclean was heading to an airport within hours of accepting the coaching job with the Philadelphia Flyers' American Hockey League team in Hershey, the phone rang.
"I told Bryan I'd just been offered the Hershey job and he told me, 'Well, you'd better change your plans because you're coming to Detroit with me,' " Maclean said, laughing. "I was unemployed one minute and then I had two job offers the same night."
They spent a few years together in Detroit, and when Murray became general manager of the Panthers in 1994, replacing Bobby Clarke, Maclean recalls sitting with his former boss at a Detroit restaurant one Saturday morning.
"I said to him, 'Bryan, I'm serious. I want the job in Florida.' " He said I'd been an assistant coach with him for a long, long time. He was getting heat to hire Larry Robinson and all these big names as his coach and I told him, 'Bryan, you'd be an idiot if you don't hire me.' He just looked at me and he walked away. A month later, he hired me and he took some serious heat. I have so much respect that he gave me that chance. We had some great, great times together."
Murray, a native of Shawville, Quebec, was hugely influential in the career of coach and former Panthers general manager Martin, who hails from the same neck of the woods.
Martin, now an assistant coach with the Pittsburgh Penguins, was studying for his Master's degree in business administration at the University of Ottawa in the mid-1970s when he recalls first meeting Murray, who then was coaching Rockland in Ottawa Valley Tier II junior.
Their paths would cross in major-junior hockey, and when Martin was offered his first NHL coaching job with St. Louis in 1986-87, straight out of junior and a Memorial Cup championship with Guelph, he sought Murray's counsel over coffee in Shawville.
"I've always seen Bryan as a sincere person, someone who was great at sharing his knowledge and experience," Martin said Saturday.
"He had a very successful career as a coach and general manager and he always was a person I had tremendous respect for. I've always looked up to him, not just for what he accomplished in the NHL, but as a human being."