In 1978 the Pembroke Lumber Kings fired Bryan Murray. The captain of that Lumber Kings team, Warnie Richardson, has been taking credit for Murray’s NHL coaching and general manager career ever since. Murray was let go after Richardson went public with several complaints the players had with the owners of the team and Murray didn’t refute them. Within three years of Murray’s dismissal by the Junior A hockey team, he was coaching the Washington Capitals, the start of a long professional coaching and managerial career at the highest levels of hockey.
Byran Murray may be the best known NHL coach who had ties to the Pembroke Lumber Kings, but there are others who are also making their mark. Jim Montgomery who played under Jim Farelli in the late 1980’s and played some games in the NHL has been the head coach of the Dallas Stars for the past two seasons. Montgomery had a lot of success in American college hockey as a coach before getting his break in Dallas.
Sheldon Keefe who won five consecutive league championships and Pembroke’s only national junior A title in 2011 as the Kings coach is widely expected to be the heir to the throne when Mike Babcock’s tenure ends as head coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs. After leaving Pembroke, Keefe had a lot of success coaching in the Ontario Hockey League with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, and then moved to Toronto where he led the Marlies to an American Hockey League championship in 2018.
Other former Lumber Kings who have also made it to the NHL coaching ranks include Terry Murray, the younger brother of Bryan Murray, who ironically replaced Bryan when he was let go by Washington, and Billy Inglis who had a short stint coaching Buffalo, before the Sabres lured Scotty Bowman from Montreal. Both Terry Murray and Inglis played with Pembroke in the 1960’s and then there is Mike Eastwood, who suited up with the Lumber Kings in the 1980’s. He started coaching as an assistant with the Ottawa 67’s of the OHL and spent last season with the Hershey Bears of the AHL. He is currently working in player development with the Anaheim Ducks of the NHL.
Coaches have to start somewhere, and who knows where their journey will take them. For some, junior hockey will be the end of the road, but for a select few, coaching at the highest levels of the game will become a reality. Bryan Murray didn’t know his walking papers in Pembroke would lead to coaching the Regina Pats to a Western Hockey League and Memorial Cup championship, then a job behind the Hershey Bears bench, and then to the American capital to coach a fledgling expansion team in Washington.
We lost Bryan Murray to cancer a few years ago, but he never forgot how important his start in Pembroke was to his coaching career. He spoke highly of his time in Pembroke, even though it ended badly. He knew it was just part of the game, and years later he could reflect on how his firing in Pembroke was a turning point in his coaching career.