The man behind a “Killer” coaching career

A total of 31 playoff appearances in 32 seasons with the Ottawa 67’s. Over 1,100 wins with almost 500 different players. Nine divisional, three league and two Memorial Cup Championships.

The coach behind all of these is the legendary Brian Blair Kilrea, simply known as Killer.

Kilrea spent the majority of his playing career in the AHL with the Springfield Falcons under the infamous Eddie Shore. Shore was known to be a difficult owner, making his players perform duties around the rink so that he would not have to pay staff to do so.

“[Shore] was a demanding man,” said Kilrea. “He was very tough on the players but I will say I learnt the game there. I learned a lot of things not to do. I learned some things I should do and some things I could pass on to my players.”

The toughness that Kilrea received from Shore was one of those things that he has passed on to the 67’s. Former 67 turned Sarnia Sting head coach Dave McQueen knew both sides of Killer.

“He always had his players over to his house at Christmas time … He’s always looked out for his players, although you didn’t want to get in his doghouse,” McQueen told the Sarnia Observer. “Once you were in there, it was hard to get out of it.”

One year a star player was in his office on a Thursday and told him that he hated his billet family (landlords) and wanted to be moved. The following Sunday after winning their game, the player interrupted a conversation between Killer and good friend Don Cherry to remind Kilrea that he wanted to be moved and soon.

The following week Kilrea called the player into his office and told him that he had been dealt to Windsor. The player told him that he didn’t mean moved out of Ottawa to which Kilrea replied, “I did. Now move.”

If it weren’t for Kilrea and his stubbornness, the NHLPA may not be what it is today. While playing in Springfield during the 1966-67 season Kilrea and teammates were suspended by Shore for wanting hospitalization when injured among other things. Eventually the team hired Bobby Orr’s agent Alan Eagleson to negotiate with Shore. Throughout the negotiations Eagleson noticed that owners were scared of unions which in turn led him to starting up the NHLPA in 1967.

Once Kilrea called it a career, he began working at a restaurant as a host. He was then approached by a man and asked if he were interested in coaching Ottawa’s Junior hockey team.

Kilrea was reluctant but decided to do so anyway.

He has been behind the 67’s bench for over 30 years and has long been the face of Junior hockey in Ottawa. In 2003, Kilrea was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in the builders’ category. He has graduated many players but where they go after the 67’s doesn’t matter to Kilrea.

“A lot have made the national league, the American league, Europe but I’m equally proud of the ones that made it into the police force, fire department and the ones that became lawyers and farmers,” said Kilrea.

At the beginning of this year he held a press conference announcing that this would be his final year behind the 67’s bench at the age of 74. Always what they call a “players coach”, Kilrea had a knack for relating to young hockey players.

“Killer is a good coach and a great man. He cares a lot about his players,” said former 67 Peter Tsimikalis. “Him being in the Hockey Hall of Fame, at times it was intimidating playing for him, especially as a young 16 year old kid, but the truth is that Killer treats you like a professional, and turns you into a man.”