70 'just a number' for ageless Kilrea

CHRIS STEVENSON -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 8:32 AM ET

He expects it will be a low-key night, probably a quiet dinner at home with his wife, Judy, and their three grandchildren.

Bet you there will be a birthday cake to celebrate Grandpa's 70th birthday today.

Brian Kilrea turns 70 today, though you would have had trouble believing it if you watched practice down at the Civic Centre yesterday.

The 67's coach and GM shouted, hollered and yelled yesterday when his players didn't do things exactly the way he wanted (there's a surprise), demanding they regroup and do things right.

He is still what seems to be a bottomless well of energy and wisdom, and his wit shows absolutely no signs of losing its edge.

He might be 70, but a 17-year-old (or 18, 19 or 20) better not try taking him on.

At the end of yesterday's practice, winger Mark Mancari set up some pucks around the edge of the crease in front of one of the nets, preparing to practice roofing the puck. Kilrea skated over, swept the pucks aside and told him to call it a day.

Mancari grumbled about it as he slammed the door in the end boards. He stood there while Kilrea then lined up a half-dozen pucks and fed them across the slot to Lukas Kaspar, the impressive Czech forward, who one-timed them off the post and into the net.

Mancari waited for a break and then stormed back onto the ice.

"Oh, you'll help the good players, but not the rest of us, eh?" (or something like that), he shouted at Kilrea.

"Why bother?" shot back Kilrea with a laugh.

He was still laughing about it when he came off the ice.

That's where it is for Kilrea, still, 70 years old today and still enjoying working with the kids, giving and taking (mostly giving), still enjoying the bus trips, the game, this life that is coaching.

Seventy.

"It's just a number," said Kilrea, slipping his skates off in the room behind the 67's dressing room along with assistant coaches Bert O'Brien and Vince Malette. They put Game 6 of the Houston Astros-St. Louis Cardinals series up on the television while they got changed (Kilrea can talk baseball with the best of 'em, too.).

'A QUIET NIGHT'

"I think we're just going to have a quiet night (tonight). If there's a Game 7 (in the Astros-Cards series), I'll look forward to another Game 7."

Kilrea was coaching long before any of his players were born.

"It's more about how you feel and I don't feel 70," he said, pulling off another skate. "I know when I was a kid growing up, 70 seemed really old. Now I don't think it's old at all," he said with a laugh.

"When you've got your health and you're having fun, it's just like being 60. I feel good."

The coach with the most wins in junior hockey is still as good as it gets.

He tried stepping away from the bench a few years ago (remember when he brought in former 67's star Peter Lee as coach?) At that time, Kilrea' health wasn't the best and he felt like he was becoming a grouch around the players.

'I thought the gap (between himself) and the players had grown," he said. "But now I'm having fun and they're having fun. Either I got younger or they got older, but I don't think there's a gap."

Maybe Kilrea is even showing a bit of a softer side.

Kaspar and Jakub Petruzalek, a fellow Czech, still have their long hair, but Kilrea, who has a rule about no long hair or facial hair, is letting things slide -- for now.

"You have to look at the situation," he said. "They gave up a lot to come over here and they've had to make a lot of adjustments. Culture. Friends. Families to live with. It's tough. They came over (with the long hair) and we joke about it. It's not something I'm going to make them do when they've had to adjust to everything else. Eventually they will, but right now they haven't.

"I'm still going to maintain the rules. We'll just have two sets for now."

A little room for compromise now, which isn't a bad thing.

Happy birthday, coach.


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