Jim (Bearcat) Murray, former Calgary Flames athletic trainer, dead at 89
'He's going to be missed,' says Flames alumnus Jim Peplinski
Round 2 of the NHL playoffs in 1989. Calgary Flames versus Los Angeles Kings. Tensions are high.
Just over 11 minutes into the first period, the Kings are down by 3. And that's when things went wild.
The Kings' Bernie Nicholls threw a swing at Flames goaltender Mike Vernon, prompting head athletic trainer Jim (Bearcat) Murray to rush onto the ice.
"I knew Mikey was hurt because he went down like a ton of bricks … the referee's arm was in the air," Murray said in a November 2021 interview with The Homestretch.
"I ran all the way out there and I got there with Mikey and he was down and I asked him a question. 'Mike, are you OK?' And he said, 'Yeah, I'm OK, Bear. What's all the ruckus about?' And I looked around and I said, 'I don't know, but the referee's coming over and going to have a little chat with us.'"
Murray may have jumped the boards just a bit too soon, he admitted, and while he was out on the ice, the Flames scored their fourth goal, sending Kings players into a tizzy.
"They counted it and I didn't get a penalty or nothing. And to this day, I don't know how it happened or why, but it did."
The Flames would go on that year to win their only Stanley Cup.
The infamous goal is just one of the many memorable moments friends and family will cherish when looking back on the life of Bearcat Murray. He died Tuesday at the age of 89, according to the Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corporation. The cause was not released.
Jim 'Bearcat' Murray was beloved by all that knew him, leaving a lasting legacy of kindness and humility.<br><br>RIP Bearcat. <a href="https://t.co/5VAUIRjGDm">pic.twitter.com/5VAUIRjGDm</a>—@NHLFlames
Murray was born in Vulcan, Alta., in 1933 and grew up in Okotoks.
The Bearcat nickname is a result of his father's own hockey career, Murray had said. His dad played for a hockey team in High River when he was growing up, and a reporter there dubbed him Bearcat. Since he was 12, Murray remembers kids in town calling him Bearcat, too.
Jim Peplinski, former right winger for the Flames, said the team took a liking to the name when Murray joined them in 1980. He worked as head athletic trainer until 1996, when he retired. He remained with the club as a community ambassador.
Over his time with the team, players and staff appreciated Murray's zest for life, something that will be dearly missed by all who knew him, Peplinski said.
"In all the time I spent with Bear, there was not a minute of his life that he wasted.... I would love to tell you some of the stories that I will never repeat but I remember fondly, because boy, did we have a lot of fun together," he said.
"He's going to be missed."
Although he is remembered as a great athletic trainer now — and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in the athletic trainer category in 2009 — Murray later said he wasn't quite sure what he was doing.
Peplinski said the Flames did notice he had a peculiar style, from his strange ways of taping, to his regular yoga practice, to his frequent rollerblading adventures around competitors' arenas.
"This was a guy who was completely self-taught, and he understood the human body and had a commitment to being fit, eating properly, always moving. I mean, up until very recently, that was the way he lived his life," he said.
"'He enjoyed everything."
Murray received his first athletic trainer job offer while working in the oilpatch. An old hockey teammate visited and asked him to join the Calgary Centennials — a new junior hockey team.
"I didn't think I knew enough to be a trainer, but I guess I did because I learned pretty quick, and from then on it's just knowing the right people," Murray said.
From there, he moved through football and hockey teams, including the Calgary Cowboys, Wranglers and Stampeders.
While with the Flames, another nickname took form: "The old potlicker from Okotoks," Peplinski said, which he promises is not a derogatory term (despite the dictionary.com definition).
"He was a guy who would waste nothing," he said.
"I'm sure if you went to his basement today, the stuff that he has stored down there would turn heads. And my recollection is the 'potlicker' had to do with never wasting anything, like lick the pot clean."
Murray liked the name, too, using it often, so much so it was immortalized as part of the title of his 2021 memoir, Bearcat Murray: From Ol' Potlicker To Calgary Flames Legend.
The book chronicles some of his favourite moments throughout his career, including the Calgary Flames Stanley Cup victory in 1989, his very own fan club starting up in Boston after some hockey lovers discovered his antics and his memorable meeting with Prince Albert of Monaco during the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary.
"I just ran up to him and said, 'Hi, I'm Bearcat Murray. I know a lot of people in Prince Albert. Is it cold up there right now?' And the guy looked at me as if I was crazy, which I was."
Murray's fun-loving legacy earned him a loyal following around his hometown of Okotoks, with fans regularly waving, honking and just saying hello when he'd drive around town.
In November, after his book was published, he reflected on how proud his parents would be to see all of his success.
"My mother and my dad would be just excited as could be for this to happen to an old Okotokian like me," he said.
"I just go along with it, wave back and smile and say thank you. And that's about it."
A beautiful tribute for Bearcat from Lanny ❤️ <a href="https://t.co/Wh5b5orSne">pic.twitter.com/Wh5b5orSne</a>—@NHLFlames
With files from Rick Donkers, The Homestretch