Bryan Murray has vivid memories of the Anaheim Ducks' run to the Stanley Cup finals in 2003. They're back in the NHL championship series, and so is Murray _ this time as coach of the Ottawa Senators.
He spent the 2001-02 season as the Ducks' coach, and was their general manager the following season when they made their first appearance in the Cup finals, losing to New Jersey in Game 7.
Recalling how the Ducks managed to win the playoff opener that year against Detroit despite being outplayed, Murray said, ``It seemed from that point on the players started to believe they could win. (Goalie Jean-Sebastien) Giguere was obviously great. Somehow or other we found a way to win games in tight spots.
``So I remember very clearly. You don't get that many trips to the finals. That was a great run, great time, and I'm sure when we go back this time the fans will be very much into it and have high expectations again.''
Giguere, Rob Niedermayer, Andy McDonald and Samuel Pahlsson are the only players still with the Ducks from that 2002-03 squad, although Murray had a hand in bringing in some of the younger players who have made an impact for Anaheim.
``We traded for Rob Niedermayer, and there are some guys there from when I coached, there are still a few left,'' Murray said Thursday during a conference call. ``So there's always great interest. I mean when they were playing other teams, I watched very closely.''
Murray said that Ducks GM Brian Burke and he are good friends, and ``It's certainly his team now. I really enjoyed my time there. We had a great staff in the office as well as in the scouting and hockey department. We have some players that they did a heck of a job as far as drafting or signing as free agents out of college.''
The Senators are making their debut in the Stanley Cup finals, so a first-time NHL champion is certain to come out of the series that begins Monday night in Anaheim.
The 64-year-old Murray became the Senators' coach on June 8, 2004. After serving as coach of the Ducks for one season, he had become their GM in May 2002 and hired Mike Babcock as coach. Babcock left for Detroit after two seasons and earlier this week was back in Anaheim _ where the Ducks beat the Red Wings in Game 6 to take the Western Conference title.
Murray previously coached at Washington, Detroit and Florida _ where he was GM when the Panthers made it to the 1996 Stanley Cup finals.
He said he's happy he gave up the GM job in Anaheim to return to coaching, which also gave him a chance to go back to the Ottawa area and reconnect with members of his large family.
``The big issue was first of all that I enjoy coaching. I enjoy being around the players on a daily basis, and it was my home area,'' he said. ``The other part was I thought Ottawa had some talent.
``I thought there was a real chance to do what we're doing now.''
The Senators' Daniel Alfredsson said Murray's arrival helped turn around the struggling franchise.
``Changes were made and Murray came,'' Alfredsson said. ``He's been able to take us to another level. The biggest thing, we're a much better forechecking team.
``And his leadership throughout our tough times was crucial. He was poised during that time, that reflected on us and that's why we were able to break out of it.''
Burke believes his former ties to the Ducks will add something to the finals.
``I guess it's going to be a real healthy competition,'' he said. ``It will be very interesting for me, maybe more than if we would have played some other team. But my focus right now will be totally on Ottawa.''