Yes! You've just got to cheer for Killer

BRUCE GARRIOCH, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:52 AM ET

There is a cardinal rule in being a sports reporter -- no cheering in the press box.

OK, now I can admit it -- I've done it once in my 22-year career.

The date was May 23, 1999 at the Civic Centre. It was a warm, overcast day. The score was 6-6 between the 67's and the WHL's Calgary Hitmen and I was sitting in a second press box built for the Memorial Cup, just behind one of the lower-level sections.

Essentially, my assignment through the weekend was Brian Kilrea. The focus was on the friendly Irishman with the big cigar, the big blue eyes, the wide smile and the cutting wit. Here he was with the chance to win the Cup in his hometown and I wanted the 67's to get it done for him.

Who didn't?

So, when Matt Zultek scored the winner in overtime to give the 67's a 7-6 victory, I couldn't help but give it a big: "Yes!" Not loud enough for anybody to hear, I don't think, but enough that I noticed I'd done it. No, there weren't any tears, but I felt good for the man who had done so much for so many.

So did everybody around him. Former players such as Brad Shaw, Doug Wilson, Bruce Cassidy, Darren Pang and Tim Higgins were all passing along their best wishes to Kilrea. They wanted to see him win one more time. Ten years ago, nobody knew his career would last this long.

Some thought it might be his last chance. Winning made a good story.

If you know Kilrea, you like him. That's about as simple as it gets.

"Nobody has ever said a bad word about Brian Kilrea," Don Cherry, legendary star of Coach's Corner, once told me, "and I really mean that. Think about it? You ever hear anybody say anything bad about Kilrea?"

Cherry was right. Never have. Never will. Oh, sure, his players would get tired of being barked at, but they knew deep down this guy wanted nothing but the best for them. He pushed them because he wanted to make them better and that part of him was never going to change.

NOTHING PHONY

There is nothing phony about Kilrea. What you see is what you get. He can cut you with a knife in one sentence, pat you on the back minutes later and then give you a big smile as you leave the room.

While Kilrea is still going to be around as the 67's GM, it's times like these that make you remember the days gone by in his career. The long road trips, the laughs and having a beer (or two) with the Anne Murray music on the 8-track player at the front of the bus.

Kilrea really is a dream for media in this city. He's not afraid to be critical, sometimes he doesn't sound like he cares about what he says, but don't be fooled -- whatever he says, it's always well thought out, with a message behind it. He is an expert in knowing what it takes to push a player's buttons.

More than being a coach, Kilrea is also a good friend. The kind of person who would do anything for you. He loves spending time with his wife Judy or in his basement watching hockey or the NFL on Sunday, but he makes sure he makes time for the people who are close.

HAVE A FEW LAUGHS

When I got married to Maria McClintock in 2006, the Kilreas had to send their regrets because they were making their annual July trip to Western Canada. Kilrea promised we'd get together before the wedding so "we can have a few beers and a few laughs."

So Kilrea called up some of our friends and we all got together for a night in a box to watch the Lynx play in Ottawa. We didn't see a lot of the baseball game. Most of the night was spent talking hockey, with Kilrea giving his usual advice about what he'd like me to think about the Senators.

Naturally, I always agree. It's just easier.

That night kind of sums up Kilrea, though. Just a good person, who often thinks about others before himself. Later that night, Judy and Brian gave us a wedding gift and promised we'd see each other soon.

You learn to cherish simple moments when you get older, and we certainly did that night.

This city should always cherish Brian Kilrea. We're lucky to have him. And we're lucky he's not going away. He's just stepping aside. That's good news.

BRUCE.GARRIOCH@SUNMEDIA.CA


Photos