No matter how many times he told the story, Jim “Bearcat” Murray always ended one of his most heartbreaking tales with a glint in his eye and a smile on his face.
“Only coach in NHL history to be plus-1,” he said proudly.
In a recent chat, reflecting on his unlikely journey to becoming the most famous head athletic coach in NHL lore, the man known in southern Alberta as The Little Potlicker of Okotoks s lit up when asked about one of the many nights his legend grew.
“Bernie Nicholls hit Vernie (Flames goalie Mike Vernon) and he went down like a ton of bricks – it didn’t look good,” Bearcat said of a playoff incident against LA in route to the famous 1989 Flames Cup race.
“The ref had his hand up and I thought, ‘this is going to be called.’
Joel Otto grabbed Nicholls and started a ruckus, the ref’s arms fell and I thought the whistle was going to sound, so I just hit the ice and started running.
“I get to Vernie and he says ‘I’m fine, I’m just trying to take a penalty.’
“Suddenly I heard screaming, and when I looked at the ice, there’s the referee skating towards the penalty box and our guys are skating with their sticks in the air. We scored.
“I said, ‘Mike, the whistle never rang, we’re in trouble.’
“He said, what does it mean ‘we’ are in trouble?'”
After trying to take cover behind Vernon, Bearcat unsuccessfully attempted to slip off the stage unnoticed, hoping the goal would not be called back and a penalty would not be awarded.
“Coming off the ice, I could see Gretzky lean out of the box, hit the boards with his stick and heave the hell up,” Bearcat, an animated storyteller, said.
“I do my little prayers and say, ‘please let him be quiet. Just as I finished, I heard the ref say, “Gretz, shut up or you get out of here.”
“I got out of it.
“I was a lucky potlicker.”
This is also how he described his life.
Bearcat died Tuesday morning, three days after being injured in a fall at his home in Okotoks.
He was 89 years old.
News of his passing quickly spread through the Flames community and hit home, talking about the impact he had on a community he embraced like no other.
Long past the 1980-1996 window where he oversaw the Flames’ locker room, his infectious personality and unique look made him a household name in southern Alberta – a popularity he built long after his retirement. to be a team ambassador.
“He told me he’s played almost 100 charity golf events in a year,” former Flame Perry Berezan said.
“Not only did he play, but he started auctioning for a lot of these events. He would be officiating charity hockey games. Just like he did as a sought-after coach for Olympians and rodeo guys. , he would do anything to help. Talk about a guy who was inclusive. Whether you were an encore or a star, he made everyone feel important.
“He was the father figure who cared so deeply about you mentally and physically.
“His reach in southern Alberta made most people feel like they knew him.
“You’re going to have to hold the service at the Saddledome because thousands of people will want to pay their respects.”
Stay tuned for this one.
“I was talking to his son, Al (known as AlCat when he worked alongside his dad with the Flames), and he said this morning, ‘Knowing dad, he would like the biggest funeral and maybe even a parade,'” Lanny McDonald laughed as he was on his way to see Bearcat’s wife, Shirley, on Tuesday.
“Being a jockey, working in the oil field and becoming a trainer, he always wanted to be the best. He’s the one who put the spikes in his shoes so he could fly on that ice.
“He wasn’t formally trained so you couldn’t do it today, but he read a ton and you had this confidence and faith in him just because of who he was that he could glue you back together and you to fix.”
Ask anyone who knew him, he was always there for you, as evidenced by the night Al’s son jumped into the stands in Edmonton to rescue a stolen stick from Gary Suter.
As things started to go downhill with the fans, Bearcat jumped over the glass to help his son, tearing ligaments on the landing.
As he was stretched out of the rink he blew kisses at the camera, growing the legend of a man whose red sweatpants, white sweater, spiked shoes and bombastic look gave birth to to several fan clubs in the league.
“In Boston, Montreal and everywhere we went on the east coast, there were five or six guys dressed as Bearcats with tufts sticking out of their skull caps, a big mustache and this tracksuit,” McDonald laughed, aware of a Grateful Bearcat often met with such supporters afterwards.
“How many coaches have their own fan club in the league?”
It’s the kind of notoriety that landed the likeable Vulcan, Alta. native inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2009, one of six halls he’s inscribed in, including the Hockey Hall of Fame. fame of Alberta sports.
A serial yodeler who was always ready to lighten the mood or spice up an auction, Bearcat could often be seen trying to stay in shape at league rinks by roller-skating in the lobby. with his walkman.
It was a powerful enough show that Joe Nieuwendyk and Paul Ranheim showed up at the team’s Halloween party one year dressed as Bearcat and his son.
“It was hilarious, but so was he,” Vernon said, of a man who got his Potlicker nickname and tag from his father, Alan.
“He was a character. So passionate. He just cared, he cared about everyone. His personality rubbed off on people.
“He had nothing but energy and always had a smile on his face.”
It helped elevate the players, it helped entertain the fans.
He was MacGyver before MacGyver, searching high and wide before landing on the perfect spikes to implant in his training shoes.
“In a team environment, it’s essential to have someone who is always positive, has never had a bad day, and will do almost anything they can to help you along the way and keep you in line. “said former Flames general manager Al Coates, who was part of the management group that decided to hire the longtime coach (and often bus driver) with the Centennials, Wranglers, Cowboys and Calgary Stampeders when the franchise moved from Atlanta.
“He was one of a kind. He had one of those personalities where he was rambunctious all the time.
“I can still see him jumping up and down on the bench, so excited for others. It wasn’t about him. He was genuinely excited about the success of others.
“There are people whose personality springs from people and with the advent of television people saw that. Much like the late Ed Whalen, he was very unique to Calgary and southern Alberta.
In life, he finished plus-1.
“We laughed about that night for a long time, but we weren’t confident right away,” Vernon said.
“I said to him, ‘maybe they’ll give you some help.'”
It’s not necessary.
Throughout his life, he had already accumulated millions.