There is a huge place in Mike Babcock's heart for Bryan Murray, who died of colon cancer at 74 on Saturday. The Toronto Maple Leafs coach recalled a larger-than-life figure who had a sweeping influence over countless people who crossed his path, both in and out of hockey.
"Bryan was a proud guy from Shawville (Quebec) who shared himself with everybody," Babcock said from Moscow on Saturday. "He loved his family first and hockey people second and he touched a lot of lives and gave a lot of opportunity to many people over the years."
Babcock was one of those people, was given his first NHL coaching job in 2002 by Murray, then general manager of the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim.
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In 2000, Mighty Ducks GM Pierre Gauthier had hired Babcock from Spokane of the Western Hockey League to coach Cincinnati, Anaheim's AHL affiliate. He coached there for two seasons, until Murray succeeded Gauthier as Anaheim's GM and promoted Babcock.
"The No. 1 message I learned from Bryan Murray was this: He told me, 'Mike, everybody on the team has to be important,' " Babcock said. "In other words, everyone has to have a role. I live by that now. I really believe in that.
"Bryan was a guy who came in every day with his yellow pad, with the lines written down. He loved hockey, he loved the guys and the relationships. He liked people and he knew how to make them feel good. He knew how to get them to play hard.
"My first year with Bryan, we lost the (2003) Stanley Cup Final in Game 7 (against the New Jersey Devils). I'll never, ever forget that. But the impact Bryan had -- when I think of (his nephew) Tim Murray, the (former) GM in Buffalo, (Minnesota Wild GM) Chuck Fletcher and myself, we were all on that staff. (Former NHL coaches) Paul MacLean and Lorne Henning were there, too. Bryan was a guy who helped people to move on. He treated guys real good and made everyone important. He treated his players and everyone on his staff right."
Babcock said he can vividly remember the time that he and his son, Michael, then about 6, were helping Murray move into an Anaheim condo.
"My son said to him, 'Mr. Murray, you'd better organize this a little better,' and I was just laughing, listening to this little kid giving this old guy a hard time," Babcock said, laughing.
By then, the two men were well on their way to building a strong relationship. They were products of Montreal's McGill University, so they had that in common to start.
Video: Former coach, GM Bryan Murray dies at 74
"And then one night that I was coaching in Cincinnati and Bryan came to our game," Babcock said. "I was getting ready to leave and he showed up so we sat down and had a few beers and we got to know each other a little bit. He was just a man who you loved to work for, be around and enjoy his company."
Murray's love of the game and his affection for his players remains evergreen for Babcock, as was his unfailing respect for the players on his teams. (Murray was also GM of the Detroit Red Wings (1990-94), Florida Panthers (1994-98) and Ottawa Senators (2007-16), and coached the Washington Capitals (1981-90), Red Wings (1990-93), Panthers (1997-98), Ducks (2001-02) and Senators (2005-08).)
"Bryan loved the guys, for sure," Babcock said. "He always loved the person and treated him with the utmost respect while expecting him to play hard. He was just one of those guys who made you feel good. I loved being around him. We had a lot of laughs, a lot of fun, and whenever I'd bump into him, it was a big moment just because of the kind of person he was and the enthusiasm he had for the game."
Babcock expects to speak in the next few days with Murray's widow, Geri, and the couple's two daughters, Heide and Brittany, and tell them once more how much Bryan meant to him and his own family.
"I've worked for Bryan, Ken Holland (with the Red Wings) and now Lou Lamoriello (in Toronto) and you can't meet classier people than that," he said. "I know the Babcocks are forever indebted to Bryan for the opportunity we were given.
"I don't care who you are or what time of your life you're at, when you lose your father or husband or anyone in your family, it's a huge, huge blow. But their memories live forever and they're going to watch over you forever. You're going to have someone to talk to for guidance and Bryan is going to be there for his family.
"I'm proud to have had a great relationship with Bryan. What I'm going to remember is a gentleman and a gentle man, someone who loved his family and his players and his staff and had a lot of fun and just-flat out made people better."