Killer instinct guides 67's at Cup

MORRIS DALLA COSTA -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 8:13 AM ET

Brian Kilrea has coached nearly 1,900 OHL games. He has set the record for most wins with more than 1,000.

Kilrea has the coaching thing down pat. He can entice or intimidate players, officials and the media with either soothing words, a sharp tongue or a withering stare.

He can be one tough hombre.

Just about everything that can be written about "Killer" has been written. He's seen just about everything that can be seen in hockey.

On the flipside, longtime observers of the Ottawa 67's coach have seen just about everything there is to see of Kilrea at the rink. After 28 seasons of coaching the 67's, it's difficult to imagine anyone else behind that bench . . . ever.

Just as difficult as it is for those who know him only as a hockey coach is to imagine him anywhere except in a rink.

Can hockey people imagine him making breakfast in the morning? Or walking the dog? Or settling in on the couch for an evening of watching the Rockford Files? It would be a strange sight, but it happens.

"He doesn't bring (the game) home," said Judy, his wife of 47 years. "We don't talk that much about hockey. It's surprising, I know.

"Our house . . . everything is hockey, but he separates it.

"I always stay in the background. I don't pretend to know too much about hockey. He just does things his way."

To survive in this game, one has to be able to take a break from it or the pressure will eat you up.

Kilrea has played the game, scouted and coached, including a brief assistant coach's job in the NHL.

The 70-year-old has won two Memorial Cups, appearing in five. He is a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame in the builder's category. He's been there, done that.

Knights coach Dale Hunter has called him a legend. The good news is the legend isn't ready to retire.

"I could never see him doing everything else," said Judy Kilrea. "That's why he hasn't retired. Hockey is his real interest. Whether he's coaching or scouting, it's what he loves to do.

"He says to me, 'What else would I do?' "

She says Kilrea hasn't changed much over the years. "He doesn't get nervous. He always wakes up with a smile, likes to make breakfast, walk the dog every morning. He's a very 'up' person.

"He loves to read. He certainly enjoys television sportswise. He likes the Rockford Files, Columbo, Agatha Christie, anything like that."

Could he be mellowing?

"That's what I tell him," laughed Judy. "He's getting better and better. If he wants to retire, that's good. And if he doesn't, that's good, too. Whatever he wants to do is great."

How about smoking those cigars in the house?

"Not in the house anymore," she said. "It makes me cough.

"I think he thinks I do it on purpose."

All of Kilrea's coaching skills will be tested in this tournament.

The Kelowna Rockets are defending Memorial Cup champs and making their third successive appearance in the tournament.

The Rimouski Oceanic have Sidney Crosby.

The Knights are deep, have set numerous records and are playing at home.

And the 67's have the Kilrea Factor. He finds ways to keep his teams competitive.

"We have to be the underdogs to everyone else," he said. "It's a role we've became accustomed to. It's a role that we played with three other teams.

"Being the underdogs is not going to faze us. What will faze us is figuring out how good the others are."

Hey, Brian, it must get old doing this? After all this time, can you get charged up for another hockey game? Can you get charged up dealing with the hundreds of media who'll be at the event?

"It's always special to be here," he said. "When you start the year, there are 60 teams across Canada looking to get one of those four spots, and we got one of those four spots.

"I look forward to it. I like London. I'm not just looking forward to the games we play, but seeing every other game."

In a short tournament, anything can make a big difference, thus the Kilrea Factor.

"I'm glad they think that much of our team or myself," Kilrea said. "These are really sudden-death games. If you win one, you know you're in a semifinal or a tiebreaker.

"You have to be ready for every game. . . . I know the other teams are capable. On any given night, anyone is capable."

Warning: Although the Knights eliminated the 67's in five games to win the OHL title, Ottawa hammered them 6-3 in the John Labatt Centre.

"I think we were overawed playing London," said Kilrea. "We looked at them and gave them a lot of respect, which they earned. But we spent too much time watching them instead of doing things. Now that maybe we got the stardust out of our eyes, we can play with them and play a little better than we did."

You can almost imagine him on the other end of the phone, lighting up a stogie, thinking about how to go about accomplishing that.


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