OTTAWA — Ask Chris Neil about Bryan Murray’s impact on the hockey world and a flood of fond memories and kind words come pouring out.
“He was like a father to me with the bond we had,” Neil said after hearing of Murray’s death Saturday. “He gave me an opportunity to play. I have so much respect for the guy for what he has done in hockey and what he has done in getting people checked out for colon cancer.”
Neil, an unrestricted free agent who has played all 1,026 games of his National Hockey League career with the Ottawa Senators, said he owed a good portion of his career to Murray, who served as coach, general manager and senior executive with the team.
Neil said Murray had a unique talent in being able to motivate different players at different times in different ways. His lively sense of humour was a gift.
“He could be sarcastic in how he got his point across, but guys responded well to it,” Neil said. “He got the most out of every single guy in the locker room. Whether you played four minutes or 24 minutes, guys would skate through the wall for him. In today’s game, that’s hard to find. He was really good at reading people and relating with players.”
While many coaches and general managers believed Neil would amount to little more than a fighter and fourth-line role player, Murray saw more. He elevated Neil’s ice time and even occasionally used