Filled with tales from his storied life, Jim ‘Bearcat’ Murray’s new book Bearcat Murray: From Ol’ Potlicker to Calgary Flames Legend hit shelves in November.
Co-authored by long-time Calgary Herald sports scribe George Johnson, the book goes into Murray’s 16 years as the Calgary Flames’ athletic trainer and the various people he met along the way.
“It’s been wonderful. Look what’s going on with the friends that we’ve made.” Murray said. “Especially with hockey and especially with Okotoks, you always make friends.”
Born in Vulcan in 1933, Bearcat, with his parents Allan and Isabell, moved from Blackie to Okotoks in 1937.
Hockey and sports were a common thread over his lifetime with his father, from whom he earned the name Bearcat, playing senior hockey for the High River Flyers and his mother involved in local curling.
“It’s involved hockey all my life. I was born into hockey,” said Murray.
Starting as an athletic trainer with the WHL Calgary Centennials in his 30s, then the Calgary Wranglers, Murray then joined the Calgary Flames as their head trainer when they moved from Atlanta in 1980.
“It’s been incredible. Who knew when I first started as a jockey back at age 13 and working out on a farm that raised horses, the value of learning and how to train and look after sick and hurt horses would help me in later years,” Murray said. “I studied all my life, and especially when I was with the hockey teams, I was continually studying.”
Now 88, with a spot in the Hockey Hall of Fame, he still spends his days coming to downtown Okotoks, where the Murray Arena honours his family’s contribution to the town’s sporting community.
“Okotoks has been my home forever and we did a million things here as kids,” Murray said.
“I used to tie my horse up right outside and come in here and visit.”
The environs made for a rich childhood.
“Just growing up here as a kid, there was a beautiful river full of fish I could learn how to fish,” he said, crediting his father for making him an excellent fly fisherman.
The process of relating his experiences to Johnson felt incredibly natural, he added.
“George did a wonderful job,” Murray said. “All the occurrences just flowed … and boom into the book."
Fellow Flames alumnus Lanny McDonald, who wrote the foreword for the bio, had only just been reunited with his old friend.
“This is the first chance Bearcat and I’ve been back together in a while, I haven’t even had a chance to read the book,” McDonald said. “So I’m buying a book to take home so I can go through it.”
Their friendship spans five decades, starting early in both their hockey careers.
“Bearcat and I go back all the way to 1969 when I first went to training camp with the Calgary Centennials, when Bearcat was the trainer for the Calgary Centennials,” he said. “Then to go full circle and get traded back to Calgary and Bearcat’s the trainer for the Calgary Flames, yeah, it’s been a fun run.”
Longtime friend and fellow Okotokian Rob Laird was surprised to learn he had a mention in the book.
“I don’t read much, but I read this book. (My wife) bought me a copy and she said ‘You’re in the book,’” Laird said. “I didn’t know that was going to happen.
“The fact is that he’s an icon, a local legend."