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Senators GM Murray saving lives through cancer fight

by Dan Rosen

BOCA RATON, Fla. -- St. Louis Blues assistant coach Brad Shaw is proof of how Ottawa Senators general manager Bryan Murray is saving lives by spreading awareness through the public battle he is waging against stage 4 colon cancer.

If not for Murray's honesty and forthrightness since being diagnosed in June, particularly in a video piece for TSN reported by Michael Farber, himself a cancer survivor, members of the Blues coaching and management staffs would not have scheduled themselves for colonoscopies during the NHL All-Star break in late January. That's where Shaw found out he had a golf-ball sized polyp on the wall of his colon that if undetected could have been life threatening.

Doctors told Shaw he should have the polyp removed immediately. He had surgery on Jan. 28 and was behind the Blues bench the next night coaching against the Nashville Predators.

"I sent a text to Bryan to just tell him that we went in support of him, in honor of you and what you mean to the coaching fraternity, and I just so happen to be a big beneficiary of it all because unbeknownst to me I had a bad polyp at a size that can get bad pretty quickly," Shaw said. "I had no family history, no symptoms, so I definitely wouldn't have went that week, I can tell you that. I told him I wanted to thank him for coming out and being very forthright with what is going on. It's really unfortunate what has happened to him, but he's a battler."

Murray, 72, is being honored Monday night by his fellow general managers at a special dinner for his career in hockey and his contributions to the game. He has admitted there is no cure for him at this point, but he continues to work as the GM of the Senators and a steward of the game in meetings such as those taking place this week.

In addition, the public battle Murray is waging against his disease has made him an example of unselfishness, perseverance and dedication to his fellow managers. It's part of the reason he is being honored Monday night.

"Him being strong enough to do that with Michael, to put that out there for all of us to see, has changed our outlook and he saved lives," said Blues general manager Doug Armstrong, who had four small polyps found when he was tested during the All-Star break. "I'm not trying to overdramatize it, but that's just reality. Bryan took a really bad situation for himself and his family, took it public, and he is getting people to do things that they normally wouldn't do that can save lives. I'm not trying to get sappy here; this is reality."

The general managers have honored someone each year at their March meetings since 1994, but Murray is the first active general manager to be honored by his peers. That makes him uncomfortable, but he gets it.

The GMs are honoring Murray as much out of uncertainty for his future health as they are for his career in the game. The latter holds more weight.

"When they started doing this it was mainly for retired guys and maybe they're sending me a message," Murray joked. "I'll have to wait and see about that. I think that any time you're recognized by your peer group, it is an honor and it's a nice thing to have happen."

Murray, formerly a gym teacher in Shawville, Ont., has been to the Stanley Cup Final three times; twice as a GM and once as a coach. He is 10th on the NHL's all-time coaching wins list with 620 victories in a coaching career that spanned 17 seasons totaling 1,239 games.

"Take away the hockey side of things, he's a great person overall, a great family man, a great man to talk to, very cordial," Dallas Stars GM Jim Nill said. "You lump in the hockey side, what he's done as a coach and manager, really his resume is full, he's done it all."

Murray started his career coaching junior hockey, where he won the Memorial Cup with the Regina Pats in 1974. He moved to the American Hockey League and got his first NHL job in 1981, when current Nashville Predators GM David Poile hired him to coach the Washington Capitals.

Murray brought the Capitals to the Stanley Cup Playoffs in each of his seven full seasons. He won the Jack Adams Award in 1984.

"To me when I think about Bryan I always go back to what he really is, and that's a teacher," Poile said. "I had the honor and pleasure of working with him for eight years and I saw what kind of teacher he was. All good teachers are good communicators, and Bryan could do it softly, harshly, with sarcasm and with humor. The proof is his record and the players he developed. Now when we run into former players they always have good things and good stories to tell about Bryan, and whether it was a serious moment or a humorous moment, they always say it was a life lesson. He could run the whole school, and he did."

Murray became coach and GM of the Detroit Red Wings in 1990 after his time in Washington. He drafted Chris Osgood, and played a role in the development of Nicklas Lidstrom and Sergei Fedorov. The Red Wings won back-to-back Stanley Cup championships in 1997 and 1998, and again in 2002 and 2008.

"He had a huge impact," said Nill, who arrived as the Red Wings assistant GM in 1994. "That's when the Fedorovs and Lidstroms started to show up. He was part of that era. He had a big part in it. He had to deal with these young players coming from Europe, getting them settled in and playing the right way. He was a huge part of it."

The Florida Panthers made the Stanley Cup Final in 1996 with Murray as their GM. He was also the GM of the Anaheim Ducks when they went to the Stanley Cup Final in 2003.

Murray drafted Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry in 2003. Four years later, when he was coaching the Senators, Getzlaf and Perry played a significant role in Anaheim defeating Ottawa in the Stanley Cup Final.

"His coaching career and his managing career, it's one of those ones where he might not have been at the scene of the parade but he left two organizations in great shape that won Cups after his departure, Detroit and Anaheim," Armstrong said. "I think the people that set the table don't get a lot of the credit, but I'm sure there is some pride when he looks at those teams winning because of the part he played in helping them be successful. He might not have his own Cup yet, but there are organizations he certainly helped get theirs."

And now, while Murray is still grinding for that elusive Stanley Cup championship to call his own, he is battling a greater fight against a deadly disease. He's doing it in public in order to spread awareness so others don't have to be like him.

"That's the only reason I suggested I would do it," Murray said. "When I got asked by one of the networks to do something, I did it with a person that had experience with the disease [Farber]. I thought that if I could help -- I go to the hospital so often now and I see so many people affected, so many families affected, so many young people that being in a position I'm in with a bit of a name in Ottawa that if nothing else in that city I can make people aware. I've had so much feedback from that, it's unbelievable, both from doctors and people that have gone and had a colonoscopy for an example, and there was an indication that they'd better get something done because they had the start of the disease. It's not fun to have and it's not fun for my family to have me discussing it quite often, but I thought it was the right thing to do."

Murray said in the TSN piece with Farber that his colon cancer could have been avoided had he been tested earlier in his life. He can't go back to change the past now, but he can alter the future for many other men and women.

Shaw is proof of Murray's influence. Shaw is part of Murray's legacy now.

"It's one little thing we can do in our lives to help other people," Murray said. "For me that's very important and I hope it is for a lot of people, and I hope throughout the hockey community we share this experience. I'm not the only one that has this disease by any means. I'm an older guy, I see younger people having it. I think we owe it to them to help."


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