Killer with a heart of gold

TERRY KOSHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:43 AM ET

LONDON, Ont. -- When the grandfather of a close friend passed away last week, Arron Alphonso did not hesitate to get in touch with his coach, Brian Kilrea.

Alphonso, an Ottawa 67's rookie, knew he would not have a problem getting permission from Kilrea to return home to Orangeville to be with his pal and to attend the funeral. As Alphonso expected, Kilrea let him go home and Alphonso joined the club last Friday here at the Memorial Cup.

"There is a perception everyone has of him," Alphonso, 16, said. "You see him on TV (during games) and he is a tough coach. He has really a soft, well not soft as such, but he is really easy-going outside of hockey and it's great.

"I didn't expect him to be anything like this. I was expecting him to be hard to talk to, but it is the complete opposite. I am very grateful for what has happened this year. I hope he will be here throughout my whole career."

There is nothing left for the 70-year-old Kilrea, who has won two Memorial Cups, to do at the junior level. He has been adding to his record number of wins in the Canadian Hockey League for a while and now stands at 1,065. Two years ago, he was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in the builders' category.

But watch Kilrea around his players when they're nowhere near a rink and the bond is rather obvious. It's one thing to say that if Kilrea didn't like his players, he would be well into retirement. But he truly enjoys the interaction with his charges, and they will tell you the lines of communication always are open.

For Kilrea, that's as important as any decision he makes that directly involves hockey.

"Every kid has a problem at some time or another and you better be ready to listen," Kilrea said yesterday morning, his trademark cigar jammed between two fingers. "(Parents) entrust their son to me, and I want to make sure that I do the best job I can. You want to create an environment where there is respect."

Kilrea has mastered the fine line that exists between giving his players too much freedom and being too restrictive. One can bet his approach has plenty to do with the participation of the 67's in the Memorial Cup. They finished sixth in the OHL's Eastern Conference and don't have any true star, yet here they are.

"He treats us like pros," said forward Chris Hulit, who was acquired in a trade from the Oshawa Generals this season. "I haven't met a coach who respects his players as much as he does. He knows when to joke around but he knows what buttons to push when he has to."


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