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Ottawa 67's Brian Kilrea set for regular-season coaching finale Sunday

NHL.com @NHLdotcom

OTTAWA - Brian Kilrea hopes to accomplish two feats on the final day of the Ontario Hockey League's regular season Sunday.

"The most important thing is trying to get through a speech and not omit somebody that has contributed along the way. That's Step 1," Kilrea said Saturday, a day before he makes his final regular-season appearance behind the Ottawa 67's bench. "And then winning the game."

The second task is one that no coach has done better in the history of Canadian major junior hockey than the 74-year-old Ottawa native - 1,192 regular-season victories to date over the past 32 seasons.

For that reason, Sunday's game against the Kingston Frontenacs marks the end of an era, both in Ottawa as well as junior hockey.

Kilrea announced in September this season would be the last for himself and longtime assistant Bert O'Brien. Kilrea will remain with the team as its general manager next year while his other assistant, Chris Byrne, takes over the coaching duties.

Sunday's game - the 2,156th regular-season contest of his career, also a record - won't be the last for Kilrea.

The 67's have qualified for the playoffs and will meet the Niagara IceDogs in the best-of-seven first round. So there will be at least four more games in his future, which softens the emotional blow for the Hockey Hall of Famer.

"Knowing that there's some playoff games, it not like it's final," he said. "So Sunday isn't that tough for me."

Still, with many of the hundreds of former players who've passed through his ranks expected to be in attendance, and with the OHL paying tribute to him before the game, maintaining the intimidating scowl and bark that have defined the image of the cigar-chomping coach nicknamed "Killer" will be a tall order.

"It's his big day and I'm sure it's going to be a tough day emotionally on him, knowing how much the game means to him and how much the next couple of weeks are going to mean," O'Brien said. "There's been calls coming in and guys coming in . . . He has no idea how many people are going to be here and some of them that he hasn't seen for a long time."

The OHL kicked off the festivities Saturday by presenting a regional children's hospital a cheque to fund the Brian Kilrea Teaching Room, where patients will be able to continue their academic studies while receiving long-term care. It's a fitting tribute for a man who's done a lot of teaching over the years.

Kilrea began his career with the 67's in the 1974-75 seasons and since then, has only stepped away for three seasons. Two of those, 1984-85 and 1985-86, he spent with Al Arbour as an assistant with the NHL's New York Islanders.

In 1994-95, health issues forced him into the GM's chair for the season.

Along the way, Kilrea has captured three league championships and two Memorial Cup titles as the top team in Canadian major junior. He's been the OHL's coach of the year five times and the Canadian Hockey League's top coach once en route to having that trophy named after him. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2003.

He credits his players for his success and longevity. While he's being honoured Sunday, he'll take time to pay tribute to his charges, past and present.

"When you think about what all these kids have done for me, that's the reason I'm getting recognized," Kilrea said. "I'm the beneficiary of their hard work."

In return, the 67's will try to mark the occasion the way Kilrea would appreciate it most: by winning and earning Kilrea the 12th 40-win season of his career.

"Killer's going to come in before and say, 'Just treat it like any other game,' but everyone in the room is going to know it's his last game and we're going to want to win it for him," 67's captain Logan Couture said. "Killer's done a lot for everyone in the room, so if we can give him back a little with a win in his last game, that's what we want to do."

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