August 17, 2011
Junior hockey legend Brian Kilrea has been honoured so many times that it's difficult to think of an original way to go about it.
Kilrea, 76, who's retiring after 35 years as the Ottawa 67's general manager, has in the Hockey Hall of Fame since 2001. The Canadian Hockey League coach-of-the-year award is named after him, plus he and long-time assistant coach Bert O'Brien were honoured at almost every OHL arena during their final season on the bench in 2008-09. As Don Campbell reports, there won't be the same hoopla for this retirement. It's more of a logical choice.
He will handing over the reins to head coach Chris Byrne, who will assume both jobs.
"It was my choice and it's time," Kilrea said Tuesday. "Chris is ready and I wanted to cut back."
... Kilrea plans to stick around as an adviser and sometime scout, but putting in full-time days is a thing of the past.
... "All I know is I'll be helping Chris with whatever I can do," he said. "I have always enjoyed scouting so I am going to do more of that. If Chris likes a guy and is thinking of a trade, maybe I'll go see the kid." (Ottawa Citizen)
Attention must be paid, though.
Something that must be said — and perhaps you have to indulge the great man theory a bit — is that Kilrea was catalytic in helping junior hockey be the exception to the rule with Ottawa sports. The nation's capital has taken a lot of slings and arrows for being the worst sports town in Canada. It's a pointless debate, frankly, and one that's hard to come up with a cut-to-the-quick counterpoint. It's rooted in the facts that the NHL's Ottawa Senators sometimes don't sell out regular-season games thanks in part to a terrible arena location and the city has had two Canadian Football League teams fold. Those seem to be the only arguments anyone wants to hear.
However, the city and region have never felt second-rate with junior hockey and the 67's and the Gatineau (formerly Hull) Olympiques. Each team has been good for a championship run every few years, each one has a large following. Perhaps it's a quirk of geography, but it's the only market in Canada where on a Friday night, hockey fans can choose between two unique major junior experiences, watching an OHL game at the Civic Centre in downtown Ottawa or heading over to the ear-shattering din at 'Piques game at Le Bob, AKA Centre Robert-Guertin.
Many, many people deserve credit for this. The Olympiques developed on their own, of course. On the south side of the Ottawa River, it is nice to believe a lot of it stemmed from the program Brian Kilrea built from the time he took over the 67's in 1974-75. With his presence, one felt obligated to view the 67's as big-time. I've never had the chance to ask team owner Jeff Hunt this, but if Kilrea hadn't built such a legacy, would there have been the same imperative for Hunt to buy the team in the late 1990s and restore it to relevance? The OHL probably would have kept a presence in Ottawa, but maybe the team would have been relegated to the back pages like the teams in the Toronto area or the various franchises that have come and gone in Montreal.
Point being, the Senators have been in the NHL for 20 years. However, if you're on Bank St. outside the Ottawa Civic Centre on a game day, it still feels like the only game in town. He'd deny it, but that's all Brian Kilrea.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports . Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet (photo: CHL Images).