|Brian Kilrea, who has won two Memorial Cups and three OHL titles as coach of the Ottawa 67s, is preparing for his 30th and final season behind the bench.
The Ottawa 67's open their 2008-09 Ontario Hockey League season, riding the buses west to Toronto for an early road swing.
Once again, Brian Kilrea is behind the 67s' bench, but for the last time. It is Kilrea's 30th and last season as Ottawa coach. He recently announced his plans to retire after 2008-09. Except for a stay as an assistant coach for Al Arbour 's New York Islanders from 1984-86 and a brief retirement in the 1990s, Kilrea always has been connected with the 67s, so he is a wealth of junior-hockey information. Kilrea has won two Memorial Cups and three OHL titles.
Kilrea also scored the first goal in Los Angeles Kings history in 1967.
Kilrea played for Eddie Shore's Springfield Indians American Hockey League franchise. Shore was a Hall-of-Fame-player-turned-coach when Kilrea first met him. Shore was with the Boston Bruins from 1926-40 and ended up with the NHL's New York Americans in 1940, playing in 10 regular-season games and three playoff games with the franchise that went into mothballs at the end of the 1941-42 season because of World War II. With the demise of the Americans, the Original Six era formed and getting into the NHL became very difficult. Shore got quite a few talented players in Springfield during the days of the Original Six.
In 1940, Shore played for both the Americans and the Indians, a franchise he bought after the 1939 season. He was the player/owner of the Indians and apparently ran the team the same way he played, as a tough guy who wanted things done his way.
Shore was a physical player who is also one of the NHL's greatest defenseman. Being a coach and owner didn't change him. In 1967, Shore suspended three Indians players without pay for "indifferent play," which caused a revolt among the other players. Kilrea then was suspended for supporting the three players. Kilrea also played for Shore's Springfield team from 1959-67 and witnessed a lot of things during his time in Springfield, which seemed right out of Slap Shot.
"I saw a goaltender (during practice) tied to a goal post by the neck," said Kilrea, who said netminders could also be tied to a goalpost to help train them better. "A lot of times his treatment was different. He was very tough. You can be a star one day and a Black Ace (an extra player) the next. And he didn't miss anyone, so anyone who ever played for him was a Black Ace at one time or another."
Being a Springfield Indians player under Shore was much more than performing on ice. There were other duties that feel under the Indians employment portfolio.
"He employed you -- but that didn't necessarily mean he paid you -- but he employed you," said Kilrea. "So there was a difference. There were a lot of guys he would suspend. If they had a bad game or whatever, he would suspend them. If you got a raise at the start of the year and he didn't think it was justified, he would suspend you for a day, two or three, whatever and he got that money back. There were times he made some of the players sell popcorn, balloons and programs at some of the Shrine Circuses (at the Springfield Coliseum) he would bring in or some of the shows."
The New York Rangers supplied Springfield with players in those days, and even future Hall of Famer Gump Worsley put on an Indians uniform. Gump was a character, but according to Kilrea, Shore didn't mind having Worsley around.
"Eddie liked those fellows, Eddie liked Gump. He didn't mind someone speaking up, but it better have been at the right time," said Kilrea. "A lot of (the stories) are true. We are talking about old-time hockey. Especially off the ice. On the ice, we were a pretty good team with pretty good players. but off ice, some of the things we had to do and we did, you couldn't do it now. Even in the East Coast League, no, you couldn't do it. Some of things, the bus rides, where we stayed and what we did. Nothing could ever rival Springfield."
Kilrea, in retrospect, views Shore as an important part of his life.
"I learned humility," said Kilrea. "I learned an awful lot about how I wanted to treat players. But certainly I tried to take the opposite of what Eddie did. But I will say this, when it came to working, he taught us a lot about moving the puck, being in position and getting ready for it and little things that made a difference."
"I learned an awful lot about how I wanted to treat players. But certainly I tried to take the opposite of what Eddie did. But I will say this, when it came to working, he taught us a lot about moving the puck, being in position and getting ready for it and little things that made a difference." - Brian Kilrea on Hall of Famer Eddie Shore
Kilrea finally got his release along with his Indians teammates when Shore sold all of his players to Los Angeles Kings owner Jack Kent Cooke in 1967 and let Cooke run the franchise. Kilrea was in the NHL for the first time since the 1957-58 season when he played one game with the Detroit Red Wings. Kilrea also went from a stern taskmaster coach in Shore to one of the NHL's nicest guys ever, Leonard "Red" Kelly, who was the Kings first coach.
"Red Kelly was just a tremendous gentleman," said Kilrea. "What I learned from Red was that you didn't have to be bombastic to get a point across. Everybody worked. Maybe it was for Red because he was always for the players and he got his point across. He never embarrassed anyone. He didn't try to make a big scene and put an importance on himself but he was the important person."
Kilrea was only with the Kings for 25 games and was back in Springfield.
"They got quite a few players," said Kilrea about Cooke's purchase of the Indians, which included players like Bill White who ended up as a pretty good defenceman in Chicago. "They didn't have to go through the (expansion) draft. They went and got a lot of players that were in Springfield that they sort of built their team around plus their draft. So they had a head start on some of the other teams.
"Dale Rolfe was a good hockey player and so was Bill White, and Dave Amadio had the big shot," said Kilrea of the former Indians defencemen who a major part of the expansion Kings. "(Cooke) got some good talent out of Springfield so buying a franchise, he was ahead of himself. Not only did the franchise value go up, he also got some players who helped his team."
Author: Evan Weiner | NHL.com Correspondent