OTTAWA - Brian Kilrea's final regular-season game behind the Ottawa 67's bench resulted in a fitting and familiar outcome on Sunday.
The winningest coach in Canadian major junior hockey history added one final victory to his record 1,193 wins after the Ottawa 67's defeated the Kingston Frontenacs 5-3 in Ontario Hockey League action.
Logan Couture had three goals, Cody Lindsay scored once and added an assist and Ryan Martindale had Ottawa's other goal as the 67's gave their retiring coach a going-away gift that he'd appreciate - the 12th 40-win season of his career.
"I'm glad we won. It was a good test for us as I'm concerned in getting ready for the playoffs," said Kilrea, who will retire from coaching following the conclusion of the playoffs after 32 seasons in charge of Ottawa's Ontario Hockey League franchise.
"There is no such thing as an unimportant game," he added.
The 67's (40-21-5-2) finished third in the Eastern Conference and will face the sixth-seeded Niagara IceDogs in the opening round of the post-season, beginning Friday, so Kilrea still has at least another four games behind Ottawa's bench.
"Hopefully, it's more than a few," said Kilrea, who's already committed to remaining on as the team's general manager when assistant Chris Byrne takes over the head-coaching duties next year.
But Sunday was one last opportunity for some of the more than 600 players who've played under him, the fans and the league to send their regards.
During an almost 40-minute pre-game ceremony, Kilrea, surrounded by friends, family and former players, received video messages from his former Springfield Indians teammate and friend Don Cherry and TV sidekick Ron MacLean, as well as from former 67's goaltender-turned-broadcaster Darren Pang and Phoenix Coyotes coach Wayne Gretzky.
Gretzky praised Kilrea's teams for playing hockey "the way the game should be played: hard, skating and puck-moving."
"He was almost ahead of his time," said Gretzky, who only suited up for one full season of major junior with the Soo Greyhounds in 1977-78.
Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke was there. He'd originally landed in Ottawa with former Leafs' GM Cliff Fletcher, but the latter rolled his ankle getting off the plane and had to return to Toronto.
The Frontenacs' coaching staff, including ex-NHL star Doug Gilmour, donned sweater vests similar to the ones Kilrea wears.
He received a standing ovation from the crowd of more than 10,000 and the tributes choked up the normally stoic Kilrea, who couldn't quite get through his speech before having to pause to gather himself.
"I knew as soon as I saw some of those things up on the board it was going to be tough," he said. "It was a little tough reading through my glasses.
"I'm really comfortable behind the bench. I'm not really comfortable (speaking) in front of 10,000 fans."
It was Sept. 27, 1974, when Kilrea stepped behind the 67's bench for the first time, picking up his first victory with a 9-5 triumph over the Toronto Marlboros.
By the time his 2,156th game as coach - also a record - came to an end on Sunday, he'd added another win.
The 67's took an early 2-0 lead, but the Frontenacs, already eliminated from playoff contention, rallied to tie the game 55 seconds into the second period.
With the score 3-3 late in the second, Couture snapped a shot past Parks for his second goal of the game what turned out to be the winner.
Nathan Moon scored twice and Andris Dzerins had a goal and an assist for the Frontenacs (18-40-6-4).
Mavric Parks stopped 43 shots for Kingston. Chris Perugini made 29 saves for Ottawa before being replaced by Adam Courchaine to start the third. Courchaine blocked all 11 shots he faced the rest of the way.
"Before the game, I was real excited for the ceremony and to see all the people that were here tonight and on the ice," said Couture, the 67's captain. "It was exciting on the ice. We were all proud of Killer, he gave a great speech and we really wanted to pull out this one for him. We didn't play our best hockey, it wasn't pretty but we just got the win for him. It was special."