No place like home for 67's

The Ottawa 67's will leave the Civic Centre for two seasons while the building is under...

The Ottawa 67's will leave the Civic Centre for two seasons while the building is under construction. (Errol McGihon/QMI Agency)

AEDAN HELMER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 3:03 PM ET

OTTAWA - The September symphony of sticks and pucks crackling over fresh ice will be silenced at the old barn on Bank for the first time in 45 years.

In its place — court challenges permitting — the clamour of jackhammers and heavy machinery, as the Civic Centre gets its first major facelift since builders rushed to beat the deadline to make the arena and surrounding stadium Ottawa’s official “Centennial Project.”

They just barely made it, too, the building opening on Dec. 29, 1967.

Famously, folding chairs had to be carried in from the neighbouring Coliseum Building to cram the last of the 9,000 fans to witness the 67’s home debut, a 4-2 loss to the Montreal Jr. Canadiens.

Some 25 years after Pierre Jarry scored the first goal for the home side, the rink witnessed another Ottawa-Montreal showdown when the NHL’s Senators were reborn. Neil Brady scored the first goal in the team’s modern history in a 5-3 win over the eventual Stanley Cup champion Canadiens on Oct. 8, 1992.

Now, the 67’s will follow their NHL cousins west to Scotiabank Place — amid a mess of scheduling for two home teams, not to mention schooling, billets and practice facilities for the juniors — for the next two seasons.

“It’s almost like you’re being forced out of your home,” said Jeff Hunt, 67’s owner and the face of the development group behind the Lansdowne overhaul.

“But you get to stay in a really nice hotel.”

When they do finally make it back home, chances are the face of the franchise — the one fixture in the seesaw cycle that is junior hockey — will be there waiting.

A week after the 67’s were eliminated, Brian Kilrea was “busy doing nothing” in his office, tucked in the arena’s back corner at the end of a narrow hallway, the dropped ceiling tiles yellowed from his trademark cigars.

“I’ve had some good memories here,” said Killer, “and (current GM/coach) Chris (Byrne) will build his own memories.

“I’ll never forget when I first came in, the first person I met was the superintendent of the building, Lou Belleau, he came up and said, ‘if you ever have a problem or if you ever need anything come and see me.’ ”

It wasn’t always so rosy, and it wasn’t always without some “taffy-pulling,” as Kilrea says.

“I used to get upset when you’d fight all year to get home-ice advantage, then you don’t get to use your rink in the playoffs.”

Notoriously, the 67’s would be booted from the arena to make room for the Home Show, which invaded the building each spring, just in time for the OHL playoffs.

“That used to bother me, but then I realized it’s a multi-purpose building,” Kilrea said.

“The (Home Show) got in one year and then it seemed like they had priority. I didn’t understand it, but all I was concerned with was the hockey.”

Kilrea knows hockey, though he admits he didn’t quite know it all at first.

“I didn’t know a whole lot about coaching or management,” said Kilrea, who caught the eye of original owner Howard Darwin after his Ottawa West Midget AA team earned a 4-4 tie against a touring Soviet squad that was “destroying” other Ontario teams in exhibition games.

“It felt like a win for us, and it felt like a loss for them.”

Kilrea came on board for the start of the 1974-75 season, coaching his first game against Toronto legends George Armstrong and Frank Bonello and their powerhouse Marlboros, who would go on to win the Memorial Cup that year (with Bruce Boudreau and 17-year-old John Tonelli playing starring roles).

“It was a tough way to open,” says Kilrea. “That was my introduction to major junior, and we scored something like 10 seconds into the game — a kid by the name of Frank Donnelly. He came in (as a training-camp invite), I put him on a line with Tim Young and he scored in the first 10 seconds of the game. We won the game 9-5.”

Kilrea was a quick study. He posted a winning record and made the playoffs in that first season. He’s missed the playoffs only once since.

“(Darwin) really took a gamble on me and luckily it worked out for both of us.”

Kilrea’s final turn behind the bench was a Game 7 overtime loss to the Niagara IceDogs in 2009.

Then-captain Logan Couture, on the ice when Niagara ended it 17 seconds into overtime, summed it up best in Kilrea’s autobiography, They Call Me Killer.

“My first thought was, ‘This is my last game in junior.’ Then I looked over to the bench and saw Killer and it hit me that this was it for him. There were tears from every player on that team.”

Until his 2003 induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame, Kilrea’s crowning glory came in 1999 as fans poured out of an overflowing Civic Centre after the 67’s won the Memorial Cup as hosts with an overtime win over Calgary.

“In the overtime intermission, it was probably the shortest inspirational speech I ever gave. I just walked in and said, ‘Fellas, somebody in here is going to be a hero. Let’s go get another one.’

“Luckily, we did.”


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