Kilrea left feeling a little divorced

DOUG GRAHAM, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:15 AM ET

Brian Kilrea has not been to the Ottawa 67's dressing room once during this Ontario Hockey League season.

He is proud about that. Regretful, too.

Such is the conundrum for Kilrea, an icon of the Canadian Hockey League. In his 33rd season in Ottawa, Kilrea is now filling just one role -- that of general manager.

There is obviously a part of Kilrea, even at age 75, that would want to be in the nerve centre for any team -- the dressing room.

However, even though he built this version of the 67's over the last few years when he held the dual role of GM and coach, Kilrea must now sit back and let Chris Byrne do the coaching.

It is not his team to win with and he is at peace with that.

"I have yet to go in the dressing room. I'm letting Chris handle it," Kilrea said. "Sometimes a coach and the players need to be alone. If Chris wants to talk to me about players, we do that. But I'm letting him look after keeping the players happy."

For the vast majority of his time in Ottawa, Kilrea has been both coach and GM.

He happily handled that responsibility, coaching 2,156 games. In 2003, Kilrea became the first CHL coach to win 1,000 games. He coached Memorial Cup winners in 1984 and 1999.

Kilrea admits the coaching end was more gratifying than he realized or appreciated.

"The general manager role, it's tougher. You're watching the team all the time. It's a little different and difficult. You see the mistakes. You want to go into the dressing room and say something to the players, but that's not my job anymore."

Kilrea said Byrne has done a good job during a difficult stretch early in the season.

Crippled by injuries to Corey Cowick, Tyler Cuma, Julien Demers and Travis Gibbons, the 67's struggled. Nine of Ottawa's 10 losses on the season came in the first 15 games.

Kilrea said Byrne showcased a good coaching characteristic during the early turmoil -- patience.

"He knew we had a lot better team than our record, (showed). The big thing is the team is getting healthy. We've got Cuma and Demers back. Gibbons is one of our best leaders. We needed our leaders in the room and on the ice and we got those back."

Recently, there have been several positive developments. The 67's have improved defensively and goaltender Chris Perugini's play has picked up.

Young star Tyler Toffoli has started scoring, Ryan Martindale's game has improved and Anthony Nigro, counted on to score more, is starting to show signs he's heading in the right direction.

Cody Lindsay and Thomas Nesbitt were the two mainstays on offence for much of the early going. Now they have some help.

"We know down the road (in January) we are getting Cowick back, too. We're looking forward to that day," Kilrea said.

The 67's, with seven wins and points in a shootout loss and an overtime defeat in their last 10 games, have moved up to within a point of the East Division leaders -- the Kingston Frontenacs and Peterborough Petes.

When those wins come on the road, the sight of Kilrea lighting up a cigar is not there. He sees home games live but follows away games on television.

When he does go on the road, it's in advance to look at an opposing team, perhaps with an eye to a possible trade.

Kilrea said he picks his spots for road games and has one in mind in early January. Ottawa is in Kingston on Jan. 10 and Kilrea will sit in the private box of Frontenacs GM Larry Mavety.

"We're good friends, close friends. We'll sit together and each cheer for our teams," Kilrea said. "We both know what it's all about. It's the kids we care about."

Close call

There was a close call last week for OHL linesman Ryan Park, which showed life as an official is not only taxing but can be dangerous.

Park narrowly missed being struck hard on the head when Kingston defenceman Erik Gudbranson unleashed a slapper off the boards to send the puck out of his zone.

Under pressure from a Sarnia checker, Gudbranson executed the dump-out quickly without really looking where the puck was going. Park was left rubbing his back, just below his shoulders, after being grazed.

A minute later, during a stoppage and with Park next to the Kingston bench, Gudbranson leaned out with a sheepish look and had some apologetic words for the linesman.

Park gave a thanks-for-asking nod and a little smile, too.

doug.graham@sunmedia.ca


Photos