Killer's swan song a sweet one

CHRIS STEVENSON, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:42 AM ET

Brian Kilrea came close.

On an emotional day ending his regular-season coaching career after 34 years, the Ottawa 67's coach and GM got to the final stages of his speech in the pre-game ceremony before his emotions got the better of him.

"I almost made it," he said, until he got to talking about the Brian Kilrea Teaching Room at CHEO, paid for by OHL clubs in tribute to Kilrea's coaching career which spanned 2,156 games. After pausing for a few moments, he continued: "The teaching room has to rank up with (being inducted into) the (Hockey) Hall of Fame. I'm so proud to be a part of it.

"Sometimes," he said afterward, "it's tough with a lump in your throat and the pages are a little hard to see with a little mist on them."

The ceremony before the 67's 5-3 win over the Kingston Frontenacs -- Kilrea's 1,193rd win -- which closed out the 67's regular season, had a number of dignitaries on the ice to honour Kilrea's career.

On hand for yesterday's ceremony were captains from each of the decades in which Kilrea coached 621 players with the 67's.

Steve Marangere represented the 1970s, Al Hepple the '80s, Mark Edmunson and Alyn McCauley the '90s and current Senators defenceman Brendan Bell the teams of the new millennium.

Also on hand, among NHL executives, was Maple Leafs president and GM Brian Burke.

Hockey Night in Canada icon Don Cherry, a friend of Kilrea's for 50 years after they started out together playing for Eddie Shore with the Springfield Indians of the AHL, sent a recorded message with cohort Ron MacLean.

"Who would have thought when we were in the dregs of society, you'd one day be doing something like that," asked Cherry on the scoreboard, "and I'd be famous on TV?"

Former goaltender Darren Pang, who won the Memorial Cup with Kilrea and the 67's in 1984, sent in a clip from Phoenix, where he is an analyst on Coyotes telecasts, assisted by Wayne Gretzky.

The Great One told Pang he was impressed Kilrea "made you an NHL hockey player. He coached a game people enjoyed watching. His team played games the way it should be played."

Kilrea thanked the owners of the 67's for giving him an opportunity in 1974.

"They gave me a chance," he said, "and I never thought it would be for a lifetime."

The key to his longevity?

"Get to know the owners and become a friend," he said. "It's tough to fire a friend. That's the reason I'm still here."

In his speech, Kilrea credited Judy, his wife of 51 years, for his start in coaching.

He was in the restaurant business after retiring as a player and had no interest in coaching, he said. But when his son, Billy, signed up for hockey "My coaching career got started because she volunteered me," said Kilrea.

He also thanked the fans who have supported him and the 67's over the years.

SPECIAL FOR COUTURE, TOO

67's captain Logan Couture made sure Kilrea closed out his regular-season career a winner with his first OHL hat trick in the win, giving him 39 goals on the season.

"I'm really excited we got the win for Killer. For myself, to get my first hat trick in his last regular-season game is special for me," said Couture, who had 22 two-goal games going into yesterday's finale.

Kilrea's final and most significant thank you was to the players who wore the Barberpole for him.

"The many players -- including this hard-working bunch here -- that represented so well the 67's. Through their determination and hard work, I'm the recipient of these awards," said Kilrea. "I thank every player who came in and worked hard for me."

Now the 67's move onto the playoffs, taking on the Niagara IceDogs in the first round, which begins Friday at the Civic Centre.

Knowing there were still games to coach, said Kilrea, made things a little easier yesterday.

"That kept me from really having a tough time," he said. "We have playoff games to play and nobody knows how many.

"I hope the last game I coach is a win," said Kilrea after the game, half-a-table full of trophies -- including the CHL coach of the year trophy which bears his name and the Memorial Cup, which the 67's won twice -- gleaming beside him.

"You never know."

CHRIS.STEVENSON@SUNMEDIA.CA


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