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Coaching Chirps: A History of Behind-the-Bench Beefs

Reirden and Brind’amour aren’t the first bench bosses to get into a tiff

Florida Panthers v Washington Capitals Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

One of the subplots to the Capitals home opener against Carolina is the verbal sparring between Caps forward Tom Wilson and ‘Canes coach Rod Brind’Amour. During a September 29 preseason game, Brind’Amour reportedly “chirped” Wilson, causing Tom to challenge the Hurricane’s bench. Tom got a 10-minute misconduct penalty, and Rod got admonished by Caps coach Todd Reirden.

“I think a lot of former players that have played the game (like Brind’Amour), they sometimes forget that they no longer are a hockey player, and that’s off-limits,” Reirden said. “You don’t talk to their players, because you can’t go out and do anything about it.”

This isn’t the first time something like this has happened in hockey, or even with the Caps - the longest-serving coach in Capitals history, the late Bryan Murray (672 games, 1981-1990) was known for altercations like this... and he might not have sided with Reirden.

While behind the Caps’ bench, coach Murray broke the same taboo by heckling opponents. He pointedly advised L.A.’s Dave Taylor, “If you’re going to go after people, take your mask off. Don’t be pouncing on guys from the back while you wear a shield to protect yourself.” Murray needled Montreal roughneck Chris Nilan, “Please don’t get a penalty. We want you on the ice.” Bryan chided Toronto’s Rick Vaive for wrestling with Washington’s Lou Franceschetti. “Vaive comes over to me and says, ‘Murray, you so-and-so, you sent him out (to fight).’ I said, ‘You put a stick to a guy and he retaliates and you’re upset at me. Go to the penalty box, Rick.’”

Murray didn’t allow anyone to censor his commentary, or even suggest it. “I yelled at Bobby Clarke, ‘Why don’t you retire?’ My brother Terry, our assistant coach, said, ‘You can’t be yelling at the players.’ I said, ‘You just coach the defense and let me worry about the rest.’”

One night, his verbal sparring partner was the Islanders’ Duane Sutter – nicknamed “dog” for his yapping on the ice. Murray hit Duane with these barbs: “You’re not as good as your brother Brent. You’re not that tough, either. We can see right through you.” Between periods, as Murray left the bench, Sutter slashed him on the shins. Murray grabbed a linesman who’d seen the contact, irate that a penalty wasn’t assessed. Well, a penalty was assessed – against Murray, for touching an official. (The Hockey News)

Opposing players didn’t realize that Murray’s spontaneous outbursts... weren’t. “Murray admitted the needling was planned,” William Houston wrote in the Toronto Globe & Mail. “Those associated with him say he is a fiery but calculating manipulator.” Houston said Murray would target players who were the “emotional backbone” of their team, to rattle them.

Combative Flyers goalie Ron Hextall was another target of Murray’s verbal grenades. Fast-forward to 2014, Hextall is Philly’s new G.M., and who sits beside him at a meeting of general managers but Bryan Murray. “I told Ron, ‘You have to understand that when I yelled at a guy, he was a guy who was beating me or I wanted him on my team,’” Murray said. “I didn’t care about guys who didn’t compete. Ron smiled at me.”