OTTAWA (CP) - The taste of victory hasn't gotten stale for Brian Kilrea, even after 2,000 games behind the Ottawa 67's bench.
"No," Kilrea said after Jakub Vojta scored a power-play goal at 3:29 of overtime Friday night to lead the 67's to a 4-3 Ontario Hockey League victory over the Toronto-St. Michael's Majors on a milestone night for the 72-year-old coach. "If there were less losses in my career, I wouldn't have to worry about when I'm going to retire."
Kilrea became the first coach in major junior history to reach 2,000 games.
After the Ottawa native was honoured with a 20-minute pre-game ceremony that featured several former players and NHL executives, plus an appearance by Don Cherry and Ron MacLean of CBC's Hockey Night in Canada, the 67's (22-23-0-3) went out and gave him what he would have wanted most: a win.
They almost spoiled the night, however, by surrendering a 3-1 third-period lead and needing the extra session to prevail.
"It's like the first (win of his career). It certainly isn't a highlight-reel (victory), but it is two points," Kilrea said before he excused himself for his traditional celebratory spoils.
"As this is a non-smoking building, I'm going outside to have a cigar."
The victory improved the record of Kilrea - who's the all-time winningest junior coach - to 1,116 wins and 705 losses with 153 ties, 18 overtime defeats and eight more losses in shootout.
Scotty Bowman, 74, who's now a consultant with the Detroit Red Wings, was behind the bench for a record 2,141 games at the NHL level, winning 1,244 of them, but Kilrea has done it all with the same team.
Jamie McGinn scored twice and added an assist and Logan Couture had a goal and an assist for Ottawa. Swiss rookie Lukas Flueler made 21 saves in goal.
The 67's likely couldn't have picked a better opponent for the celebrations since the Majors (14-32-2-1) came into the game burdened by a 12-game losing skid. But they made things interesting with the third-period comeback.
Couture had started things off on the right foot for the 67's by directing a cross-ice pass from McGinn past Savage, who finished with 42 saves, just 62 seconds after the sold-out crowd of 9,862 at Ottawa's Civic Centre had settled into their seats following the pre-game presentation.
However, Matt Caria, who had a goal and an assist, Cassidy Preston and Jesse Messier eventually scored for the Majors to salvage at least a point for Bud Stefanski's Majors.
"You give Bud's team credit, they've been having a tough time," Kilrea said. "They came back and worked and worked and worked."
Vojta, a Czech defenceman who's a Carolina Hurricanes' prospect, took a pass in the high slot and wired a shot past Savage while Ottawa played four skaters to three.
"It was nice (to score), of course," Vojta said. "I saw free space under his hand. We didn't have that good of a game, but we won."
The 67's players took to the ice for warm-ups wearing their traditional red-black-and-white barber-pole sweaters, each emblazoned with the name Kilrea and No. 67 on the back. Each pair of numbers were adorned with a portrait of Kilrea and the team's logo.
More than 60 former players, including nine from Kilrea's inaugural 1974-75 team, were in attendance.
Cherry, an ex-teammate and longtime friend of Kilrea, and MacLean opened the night with a taped message before appearing in person to kick things off.
"They told me to come and look at the (score) board. I didn't even realize Don was right behind me," Kilrea said.
A video tribute to Kilrea featured several taped messages from past players who've moved on to the NHL ranks and couldn't be in attendance, along with one from Canadian songstress Anne Murray, a longtime favourite on Kilrea's bus trips.
"All the years of listening (to her) paid off," Kilrea quipped.
He took centre ice to a standing ovation for the ceremonial opening faceoff, where he, Cherry and MacLean were joined by 67's owner Jeff Hunt and Canadian Hockey League president and OHL commissioner David Branch.
They presented Kilrea with a framed game sheet and picture from both Friday's game and his first game behind the bench.
Kilrea, who also serves as the 67's general manager, took charge on May 8, 1974 and in his 29 previous seasons has had only four losing ones.
His first game behind the bench fittingly came at home against the another Toronto team, a 9-5 victory over the Marlboros on Sept. 27, 1974.
He stepped aside to join the NHL's New York Islanders for the 1984-85 and 1985-86 season and moved upstairs to the 67's front office for the 1994-95 campaign when he was in poor health.
Otherwise, he's behind the bench the rest of the time, joining Bowman and John Brophy, who, at 73, is with the Richmond Renegades of the Southern Professional Hockey League, as the only coaches with 1,000 career victories.
Kilrea, who was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2003, doesn't see his mark as unattainable by future junior coaches, but did admit it would be a tough one to reach.
"I don't know because some of the coaches that could get there would probably move up (to the NHL) because there are so many more teams," he said. "Sometimes that's a temptation that you can't turn down."