OTTAWA, Ontario -- Is there a more beautiful thing than when the escapism of sports crosses over to real life to make a difference.
That’s just what these young Ottawa Senators are doing for general manager Bryan Murray. Murray said Wednesday that his team’s improbable 19-3-3 run has provided some inspiration as he continues his battle with Stage 4 colon cancer.
"Absolutely," Murray said a day after an incredible comeback win over the Pittsburgh Penguins kept his team’s playoff hopes alive.
"My sister actually texted me and she was talking about the game (Tuesday) and she was asking me how I was feeling because she knows I had chemo yesterday," said Murray. "Well, you don’t sleep the night after you have chemo, but I feel pretty good today because of the team. There’s no question."
One treads lightly when trying to make sense of hockey victories on the ice and a real-life battle with cancer off it. You don’t what to trivialize what is such an emotional situation for the 72-year-old, life-long hockey man.
But by his own admission Wednesday, his young team’s incredible stretch run has helped brighten his life, even if five consecutive games in extra time has provided some white-knuckle moments.
"It goes hand-in-hand," said Murray. "I’ve talked to my oncologist about this, 'How involved should I be and how is stress going to effect my life and all that?' He’s all positive. It’s good to be part of something like this."
Asked if what’s transpired over the past seven weeks makes it feel like destiny for his team, Murray didn’t hesitate.
"No question," he said. "If you have to go through this [crap] you might as well enjoy it with a group like this as well," said Murray.
If the GM is feeling inspired by his players, the feeling is mutual.
"Bryan has been so instrumental with us and with this run, obviously with the moves he’s made, and just seeing him around the room and the attitude that he brings, it’s pretty amazing," veteran defenseman Marc Methot said Wednesday. "He’s in there, he still cracks jokes with his dry sense of humor. It’s inspiring for us to see that. God, you come to the rink and you complain about a couple of bumps and bruises here and there. And then you see Bryan walk in there and he’s kind of strutting in the room. It makes you realize that things aren’t so bad and it’s just a game and we’re lucky."
Murray’s real-life battle has had "an impact" in the room, added No. 1 center Kyle Turris.
"Bryan's a great person,” said Turris, who has played lights-out during this run. "He's a phenomenal guy and we're trying to win games for him, for that reason obviously, but also he's shown the faith in us from Day 1. He didn't make any trades at the deadline, he believed in our group and it's nice that we've finally put together a run that's given us an opportunity to make the playoffs with the group we have that he had faith in from the start.
"I think that's the reason why we're wanting to do it for him is because he has so much faith in us that we're trying to show him he was right and help him out that way."
Murray’s off-ice battle has obviously given him perspective, but it hasn’t dulled his desire to win on the ice. So yes, winning and losing still provides the natural stress it always has before.
“If you care, you have stress," said Murray. "That’s the one thing I don’t think you ever overcome. I get as emotional game about games as I did when I was 25 years old."
What he’s witnessed since Feb. 18, however, is unmatched in his six-plus decades in the game.
"I’ve been in (hockey) a long time and I don’t know that I’ve experienced this type of run with any team," Murray said. "The character that they’ve shown, the comeback ability, the no-quit, all those words. The other part that has really been pleasing in the second half of the year is the improvement of the young guys.
"We always know, or we think we know, that if you get to the second half with a young group that they’re going to be considerably better. For the guys to step up the way they have, it’s great for the city, it’s great for management, it’s great for the team itself."
Team of destiny? One can only hope.