More to Kilrea than quick wit

CHRIS STEVENSON, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:47 AM ET

When I hear Brian Kilrea's players talk about how intimidated they were when they first met the Hall of Fame coach, I know what they are talking about.

I came to Ottawa in the fall of 1979 (almost 30 years already?) to attend Carleton University's journalism program. I think it was in my second year, while studying the TV part of the curriculum, that I convinced the others in my little group to do a story on the 67's.

We didn't have much of a chance to do sports stories, so every opportunity that presented itself to do something sports related, I would take.

I can still remember sitting in Kilrea's office at the Civic Centre -- he was allowed to have a cigar in there back then -- the smoke hanging in the air around his head and me reciting from my prepared list of questions, which Kilrea suffered through.

Since then, I can't imagine how many times I've sat in that office, among the pictures of polar bears (his favourite animal) and under the signed photo from Anne Murray (his favourite singer) and listened to Kilrea answer my questions (only marginally more insightful than that first time) or just tell stories.

I think I've heard as many stories as players who have worn the barberpole for Kilrea (more than 600 at last count).

What a privilege that has been over the years.

Eddie Shore stories.

Don Cherry stories.

Both of them in the same story (like when Cherry knew how Shore liked to crack guys' backs. So, when Shore is going by, Cherry asks Kilrea, in a loud voice, "Is your back still bothering you?" or something like that, just so Shore would crack Kilrea's back.)

The thing I have come to respect about Kilrea -- other than his Hall of Fame accomplishments, of course -- is his frankness. For a guy in my business, you have to like somebody who speaks his mind and doesn't care what anybody thinks about it.

His blunt opinions, coupled with a quick wit, have led to countless memorable lines.

I had a chance to visit with him at his home for a feature (see Pages 36-37) and we spent a few minutes in his basement -- which also serves as the repository for his impressive memorabilia -- talking about some of those lines. He said none of them were rehearsed before he walked into the dressing room; they were inspired by whatever had just happened.

The best, of course, in my opinion, remains his quip to right winger Shean Donovan in Niagara Falls after another Donovan shot had missed the next and started an opposition rush the other way in the small rink.

"Donovan," said Kilrea, "I don't know if you're playing right wing for me or left wing for them."

BITE INTO A TOWEL

Mike Peca, now a 13-year NHL vet, was Donovan's linemate with the 67's. I can remember talking to him about Kilrea's line about Donovan in Montreal a few years ago and Peca saying he had to bite into a towel to keep from laughing out loud in front of Kilrea.

"I remember walking out of the room," said Kilrea, "and hearing them laughing."

You can bring up almost anything with Kilrea and he's got a story.

As we sat in the basement, admiring his collection of beer gear -- he has more steins on some shelves than a city in Germany, it seems -- I asked him how many of his players had wound up staying with him and his wife, Judy.

He figured at least 50 over the years, including goaltender Jim Ralph.

"He lived here for a while and you would have thought he was the guy buying the food for the house," said Kilrea. "Judy was giving him big portions. She was trying to cut my weight down, so she'd only give me a little bit. I said, 'Whoa, have we got our roles reversed? Am I buying the food or is he?' Then he got my chair, besides, at the far end. She served him in my chair at the far end of the table."

Those lines will be something players will remember about Kilrea, who has been such a big influence on so many lives.

"I'm very proud of the fact that the players who have come here, so many of them, have had success whether it be on ice or in the workforce," he said. "I know a lot of our players went into the police department after they left, became lawyers or accountants, went to work for the fire department. I'm proud that they still continue to call or visit me on the road.

"I know that everyone couldn't honestly like Brian Kilrea. There are some players you might have had to trade or maybe been a little harder on them than they expected. All you can do is what you think is best for them and for the team. Sometimes, hard decisions have to be made, but you try to always let them know they are important. They were important to me being recognized for what I've done. It's not what I did for them, it's what they did for me."

That's a nice way to sum it up. Oh, yeah, and then there was the time Eddie Shore ...


Videos

Photos