He didn't know it at the time, but when Brian Kilrea scored the first goal in Los Angeles Kings history, not only was he cementing himself in history, but he was paving the way for many others to do so after him.
Jack Kent Cooke was the owner of the AHL's Springfield Indians, the team Kilrea had been playing for the past eight seasons, when he purchased the Los Angeles Kings. The Indians became the Kings' minor league affiliate by way of ownership, and when the Kings were included in the NHL expansion in 1967, a few of the players from the Springfield squad were good enough to play for the big club. Kilrea was one of them.
The first game in Kings history came on October 14, 1967. They played the Philadelphia Flyers, also part of the expansion that year, at the Long Beach Ice Arena because their permanent home had yet to be completed. Kilrea, at the age of 82, remembers that first goal as if it were yesterday.
"It wasn't as exciting as some people might think because we were down 2-0, and we were just trying to get back in the game," Kilrea recalls. "My two wingers, Teddy Irvine carried the puck down and Lowell McDonald got in the corner and passed it out, and I just made a quick shot that found the net, so we were 2-1. Then we tied it and we went on to win the game."
Kilrea, nicknamed "Killer," also had an assist in that game and went on to score the empty-netter that would seal the final score, 4-2.
"We never really thought much about the first goal at that time, that it would ever be basically your historic first goal of the franchise. We were just happy to get a goal to get us started, and win the game ultimately."
Fifty years later to the day, the LA Kings celebrate their 50th anniversary season with the home opener, honoring the original Kings, and the memories come back for Kilrea and the members of that inaugural team who are fortunate enough to be in attendance.
"Now it's a trivia question that has been asked and answered many times," admits Kilrea about the first goal in franchise history. "Also, I never scored a lot of goals anyway, but for me to get that goal, I feel pretty good about it. I was known as a passing centerman, more than a goal-scoring centerman, but thankfully I got a goal at the right time."
One of the most prominent memories Kilrea has of his time with the Kings is the team's first coach, Red Kelly, who, according to Kilrea, never swore. Having played for many coaches and being one himself, Kilrea acknowledged what a feat this was.
"Red Kelly never deviated. He never swore at a player or about a player and he was just a gentle person that everyone respected," Kilrea affirmed. "Most people don't realize that he was a defenseman converted to a forward later in his career, in the Hall of Fame, and he was one of the greatest all-time players. So to be coached by him and be part of a team that Red Kelly was coaching, I just appreciate him more and I learned some things from him."
Kilrea played a total of 25 games with the Kings that season, the only NHL games of his career. While he had great success in the minor leagues, including some All-Star Game appearances, Kilrea's biggest impact on hockey came after his playing days ended when he began coaching minor hockey in his hometown of Ottawa, Ontario. He has an impressive list of coaching accolades, including the Matt Leyden Trophy as the Ontario Hockey League Coach of the Year; the Bill Long Award for distinguished service to the OHL; and Canadian Hockey League Coach of the Year, which was later renamed in his honor. In 2003 Kilrea was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in the Builder's category.
The Ottawa 67's of the OHL is where Kilrea has invested his heart for the last four decades. There, he coached and managed former Kings player and current television analyst, Jim Fox, and current winger, Tyler Toffoli, among many others.
"They were both easy to coach because they were so talented. I'm proud because they still remember me," Kilrea says laughing. "Tyler Toffoli is so happy here and he knows he was one of my favorites because he was a good hockey player that did a lot for our team."
Kilrea has kept in touch with Fox, and planned to spend some extra time with him and his wife after the Kings 50th Anniversary and home opener festivities. Toffoli's dad spent a number of years scouting for the 67's, so it was easy for Kilrea to keep up with Tyler.
A friendship with original Kings broadcaster, Jiggs McDonald, and run-ins with former teammates like Howie Menard and Irvine kept him up to speed with some of the cast from his time as a King, but most of the original Kings assembled during the opening night festivities hadn't been together in 50 years.
But for the guys on memory lane, it certainly didn't feel that way.
"It looks like you never left," said Kilrea, happily. "All of a sudden you thought of a story, and that led to another story, and someone else told a story. Most you could tell, but a couple you couldn't," he adds with a chuckle.
Kilrea continues to serve as a scout for the 67's. He and his wife have three children, whom he was looking forward to telling about his most recent adventures in Los Angeles, which included taking photos with the iconic statues outside STAPLES Center.
"I don't think I'm going to be around for the next 50 one, but as long as I'm able to enjoy the game, I'll be watching for them and cheering for them," Kilrea boasts.
Long before Alec Martinez with 'Jazz Hands,' and Daryl Evans with the 'Miracle on Manchester,' there was Brian Kilrea with the first of many…and more to come.