Overtime loss a real Killer

Longtime Ottawa 67's coach and GM Brian Kilrea waves goodbye to the crowd after his team lost game...

Longtime Ottawa 67's coach and GM Brian Kilrea waves goodbye to the crowd after his team lost game 7 of their first round matchup with the Mississauga IceDogs. (ANDRE FORGET/SUN MEDIA)

CHRIS STEVENSON

, Last Updated: 9:32 AM ET

The silence, broken only by the occasional sob, and the tears, told the story.

A blown lead.

A swift end.

A Hall of Fame coaching career stunningly over.

The Ottawa 67's tried to come to grips with it all in their deathly silent dressing room, blowing a 3-1 third period lead and surrendering the series winning-goal just 13 seconds into overtime, giving the Niagara IceDogs a 4-3 win in the deciding Game 7 of their opening-round OHL playoff series at the Civic Centre.

The loss ended the 32-year career behind the 67's bench for coach and GM Brian Kilrea.

"It's a game we had and let slip away. I feel sorry for the kids," he said, deflecting attention away from the end of his coaching career. "If someone had told me at the beginning of the year that crew would win 40 games and take a team to seven games ... I didn't think we were that good at the start (of the season). I'm proud of them. You saw a lot of young kids improve."

The crushing loss was clear on the faces of the 67's players, still sitting in their gear in their stalls in their dressing room, tears running down their faces.

'JUST NOT RIGHT'

"To give up a third-period lead in Game 7 of the playoffs, it feels like your heart has been just ripped right out of you," said captain Logan Couture, battling to control his emotions. "We had a good team this year and to go out in the first round is just not right. It's always going to be tough to lose like that, whether it was Killer's first year or his last year. There are guys in this room that in a couple of days I'm never going to see again. We had a great team, the best team in four years. We expected a lot more."

After being outshot 18-0 at one point in the third and surrendering their 3-1 lead, the end came swiftly in the overtime. A lost battle in the corner to the left of 67's goaltender Adam Courchaine saw Niagara's Freddie Hamilton centre the puck to Andrew Agozzino in the slot and he beat Courchaine to the stick side.

The 6,095 fans -- minus the Niagara contingent -- were stunned into silence. Couture sank to his knees.

"If there's anything I could do to make it go an extra shift, I'd do it," said 67's winger Corey Cowick, whose pair of second-period power-play goals gave the 67's their 3-1 lead.

"Some guys' careers and a man's coaching career are over. It weighs on your back."

LOOKED NERVOUS

The 67's didn't look anything like the team that had built a 3-1 lead through 40 minutes to start the third. Looking nervous and hesitant, they turned the puck over and the IceDogs stormed them, bombarding Courchaine with the first 18 shots of the period. The IceDogs got a goal by Dylan MacEachern -- after a lost battle in the corner -- three minutes in. They tied it in the 13th minute on Reggie Traccitto's second of the night after a turnover by Ottawa at the Niagara blue line and a counterattack.

After Agozzino's killing goal, Kilrea made his way out to the ice with assistant Bert O'Brien, who is also retiring, and walked slowly down the slot to the 67's net where his players looked on disbelievingly from along the goal line. They gathered for the end-of-series handshakes.

The crowd began to applaud and the cheers and praise reached their peak after the handshakes when Kilrea and O'Brien paused at the gate and waved goodbye.

"It's not so much the end of a coaching career, but a lost series," said Kilrea, who is handing the coaching reins over to assistant coach Chris Byrne.

Kilrea said his general manager duties will start earlier than he planned, travelling to tournaments and U17 camps.

"It'll be an adjustment, but I feel it's in such good hands with Chris. He's a lot responsible for the improvement in a lot of the young players this year. It's his job and he's ready for it."

An adjustment for Kilrea, an adjustment for Ottawa.

Kilrea's presence behind the 67's bench has been one of the consistent and defining things about our city, for most of the lives for most of us here.

In the hours after such a stunning loss, though we knew this morning was coming, it is hard to believe that it has arrived.

CHRIS.STEVENSON@SUNMEDIA.CA


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