Brian Kilrea

Brian Kilrea is a legend in the hockey world. He is a veteran of just 26 NHL games but is best known as the winningest coach in junior hockey history. As the long time coach of the Ottawa 67's, Kilrea has earned over 1200 career wins in the Ontario Hockey League as well as producing countless NHL and minor pro players - names like Bobby Smith, Gary Roberts, Jim Fox and Doug Smith.

Asked if he ever considered moving on to coach in the NHL or at least in professionally, Kilrea quickly responded, "I couldn't think of a more perfect situation. I'm in my home town and I love it. There's no other place I'd rather be. Why would I ever want to leave here? I couldn't even begin to think of a better place," said Kilrea once. "You know I had a call the other day from an NHL team asking me if I'd even give it a thought to coach there. I told the guy: 'No thanks.' I'm happy right where I am.

"I'm not only proud of the players I've had who made it to the NHL, I'm proud when I look around the community and I see some of the players who we had here that have become good people. That's what's important. You try to teach the kids to be good to the people around them."

That, and over 1200 career wins, sums up Kilrea the junior coach pretty nicely. But let's take a look at the rest of Kilrea's life in hockey.

From Giggles To Killer

A look into Kilrea's hockey resume reveals a tremendously interesting hockey journey.

Brian was born to play hockey. His father was a legendary player in the Ottawa area in his day, but he had to quit the game to begin working. But Brian's uncles Hector, Wally and Ken all played professional hockey including in the National Hockey League.

After two years of junior hockey with the Hamilton Tiger Cubs, the 5'11" 175lb center turned pro with the IHL's Troy Bruins. He played 4 seasons in the "I" as a solid skater and great playmaker. He even appeared in one NHL game in the 1957-58 season with the Detroit Red Wings. The Wings had some injuries and invited the small Kilrea to participate in the game, but he received very little ice time.

The next year he started what turned out to be an 11-year stay in Springfield, Mass. under the ruthless regime of the legendary Eddie Shore. Kilrea, whose maternal nickname Giggles became shortened to Gig, learned a lot of what would make him a successful coach in his long tenure with Shore in the AHL.

"Eddie would do anything to make sure that our life was hell. That was just his style. We always played Christmas Day. Why give us a day off? I liked him, but I didn't like the way he humiliated people," says Kilrea.

After 11 seasons, Kilrea finally got another shot to play in the NHL when the expansion Los Angeles Kings purchased the Springfield Indians from Shore. Kilrea along with all the Springfield players instantly became property of the NHL Kings.

Kilrea would appear in 25 games with the Kings and became the answer to an interesting trivia question when on Oct. 14, 1967 Kilrea scored the first goal in Los Angeles Kings' history in a 4-2 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers at the Great Western Forum.

Send Me Back To The Minors, Please!

Kilrea's NHL tenure lasted only 25 games because he couldn't stand the weather.

"I just couldn't stand it there. I thought it was too hot," says Kilrea. "So I went to them and I told them that if they didn't mind, I'd like to be sent back to Springfield. They thought I was nuts to ask for it. I remember sitting in GM Larry Regan's office and he was trying to talk me out of it. Nobody had ever heard of anything like this before. I couldn't stand the hot weather. I hated it. I wanted to be closer to Ottawa."

Kilrea, who is probably the only person to ask to be demoted from the NHL due to his dislike of sunny weather also took a paycut from $16,500 US to $9,500 to play in Springfield.

Kilrea would finish the season in Springfield but spent the following two seasons on a road trip across North America. He appeared in Vancouver, Rochester, Tulsa and Denver before retiring in 1970.

Back To The Bigs

Kilrea would return to the NHL for two seasons as an assistant under hall-of-fame coach Al Arbour with the New York Islanders in the mid-1980s. He became very popular with his players, which eventually cost him his job.

"The Islanders thought I was too close to the players," says Kilrea. "That was fine. Al and I were different people. We did things in our own way. I tried to look at it as a learning experience and I learned a lot from him."

These are some of the interesting stories I have unearthed on Brian Kilrea. When you become the winningest coach in junior hockey history, you know there has to be a great past prior to his becoming a coach with the Ottawa 67s. As I have learned, Kilrea is one of hockey's most interesting personalities long before he became famous for his junior coaching days.

In 2008 Brian Kilrea was rightfully inducted in the Hockey Hall of Fame. Kevin Shea had an excellent interview with Kilrea. You should definitely check it out.


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