MONTREAL — Kirk Muller didn’t want to speculate about what the immediate future holds for hockey; he just wanted to pay homage to a friend he lost to COVID-19 and share his wishes for everyone to remain safe in the wake of this terrible and dangerous virus affecting every aspect of our lives.
“This here, this virus that’s happening, this is universal,” the Montreal Canadiens associate coach said during a conference call Thursday. “This doesn’t discriminate to anybody. This is the public, this is the players, this is coaches, owners. We’re all in this together.”
It’s a notion that’s hit Muller in various ways over the last number of weeks, but most profoundly when he found out that long-time New Jersey Devils physician, Dr. Barry Gerson Fisher, had died of COVID-related complications at age 69 back on April 17.
“I think we all have people that have been affected by this thing,” Muller, the former second-overall pick in the 1984 Draft, said. “I look at it like a great friend of mine and doctor from New Jersey—Dr. Fisher—who when I first started in Jersey for seven years took care of us… (he) passed away and everything. For right now, my focus is still the health and welfare of everyone we know and staying focused on what’s happening around the world and what’s happening in Canada and worldwide, and hopefully get ahead of this terrible virus. And once we get that stage done, we can get back to worrying about hockey.”
Muller was one of several former Devils to revisit his close relationship with Dr. Fisher over the last 24 hours. The others spoke with Stan Fischler for this tribute on the team’s website.
The news of Fisher’s passing isn’t the only thing that has had Muller focused on the health and well-being of the elderly and more vulnerable members of society. His 82-year-old mother, Annette, is front of mind, and he said he’s particularly pleased she hasn’t lost her sense of humour during these difficult times.
It was back on April 4 that Muller’s sister, Kelly, drove by Annette’s Kingston, Ont., home to give her a wave and saw her sitting in the window holding up a “need more wine” sign:
The photo has since gone viral.
“Well, it’s very innocent what happened,” Muller said. “My sister… as you know, everyone’s doing the same thing right now with social distancing and everything, and my mother lives in town and it’s the place that, all my brothers and sisters, we all go to see her. And we can’t right now. My one sister just pulled up the one day, because (Annette) lives on her own, to give her a wave. She held the sign up—she’s got a great sense of humour—and my sister just took a picture of it and sent it on social media for fun with her friends and it just snowballed.
“We’re getting emails from people from Spain who have vineyards, to United States and Canada. It’s basically just been a fun story through such a tough time that everyone’s having right now. So if it can enlighten and people can have fun with it, that’s how we kind of approached it.”
Muller’s father, Ed, died in 1997. So it’s been particularly difficult for him to know his mother is alone and to be nearby in Kingston but not be able to spend time with her since quarantine began.
And the former Canadiens captain said he can only imagine how difficult that situation has been for Annette.
“It’s tough,” Muller said. “This is a tough time for the elderly, as we all know. Especially older people in homes and all that. She happens to be in her own house right now, but it’s tough when you’re used to being social and having your kids and grandkids pop over all the time and now you’re solo and you stay there. It’s a very tough time right now.
“She loves hockey, she’s loving these repeats of these games that they’re showing. Thankfully those games are on, so it keeps her entertained at night to just watch any kind of hockey. She is a diehard hockey fan.”
The conversation with Muller touched on hockey, on the Canadiens’ mercurial power play this past season and on the NHL’s plan to implement Phase 2 of return to play, which would see players return to practising in small groups—and perhaps as early as mid-May.
Muller said he and the rest of the Canadiens’ coaches are just taking things day by day and ensuring they’ll be prepared for when hockey does eventually return.
But, he reiterated that there are more pressing things on his mind.
“For me, I find the anxiety of this is the whole well being of just your health,” Muller said. “We all have older parents and grandparents and we’re all concerned about people who are a bit more vulnerable than others. But again, anyone can get it, and anyone can have problems with it.”