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Like just about everyone else placed on hold in this disease-stricken world, Brian Kilrea is very much looking forward to the return of his routine.
Except with Killer, that also includes getting back to work.
What, you thought he had retired? Right, like that’s going to happen.
No, even though it’s now been 11 years since Kilrea stepped down as the winningest coach in junior hockey history, he still does some scouting for the 67’s franchise he was largely responsible for positioning so prominently on the map.
He might also be one of, if not the only 85-year old on the planet holding down two jobs.
Every Thursday, Kilrea puts on a tie and shows up for his shift at Chances R, a 44-year old west-end restaurant of which he has a slice as part- owner. There, the most popular sports figure ever born and raised in the nation’s capital goes about his duties as something of a maitre d’.
No tipping, please.
It’s obvious a guy likes being around folks when he’s doing that a full two decades after qualifying for old age pension, right?
“Just to shake hands, bring people to their seat and talk sports,” said the youngest octogenarian alive when asked why he’s still punching a clock. “I miss that.
“All I’m doing now,” added Kilrea, a Rideau View member, “is waiting for this to clear, if it does and when, and get out to golf.”
For those who don’t know, Kilrea is a huge sports fan. He roots for the Dallas Cowboys and the Los Angeles Dodgers, and he’ll always have a soft spot for the local NHL team. Sports is almost always on his TV.
To fill that void, like everyone else, he’s had to find something else to watch.
“I enjoy NCIS,” said Kilrea. “They usually have three or four a day, so I tape them, and when it gets quiet in the morning, I watch them after I read the sports pages.”
As always, Kilrea is keeping active. At the same Saunderson Dr., house he’s owned for more than 60 years, he and wife Judy now have their daughter Diane living downstairs. There’s also
Eddie, the rescued terrier Kilrea says is “the best dog in the world. He likes to look out the window and watch the people go by.”
That is, when Eddie is not with one of those people himself.
“Every day I walk him twice, morning and afternoon,” said Kilrea. “I don’t go in the field, it’s too damp now, so I go up a couple of streets and back. The dog gets the exercise and so do I. I enjoy it. We’ve had dogs forever.
“It’s my daughters’ dog. I just inherit the walk. I enjoy the walk.”
Diane does grocery runs, as does Linda, the Kilreas’ other daughter, a nurse who is providing essentials as a nurse, working a few times a week.
“The other day, Linda came over … no one met her … she put the bags outside and we went out and brought them inside,” said Kilrea. “We’re abiding by the letter of the law. Don’t associate. We’re just staying here. We’re all isolated, don’t do nothing. We haven’t needed gas, so we didn’t have to go to a gas station.
“The biggest thing … my neighbour was going out and he said: ‘Brian, I’m going to the Beer Store.’ So he went and got us a couple of cases, so we’re fine there, too.”
One or two cold ones get cracked every day at 4 p.m., which has long been happy hour in the Kilrea household. If we could parachute ourself on to a seat at that rec room bar (wearing a Breaking Bad hazmat suit, of course), we’d help Kilrea with the ’sports talk’ fix he’s been missing at Chances R.
Instead, having to suffice was a phone conversation to get what has always been his highly respected — and always entertaining — take on the happenings in the hockey world.
Most pressing, of course, is the fate of the 2019-20 NHL season. What, Killer was asked, would you do about it if you had to make a decision on it today?
“Being honest, I’m hoping it can get playing again, because I know everyone wants to see it continue,” he said. “I’d like nothing better than to see some playoff games, but I think for the health of the communities and the players themselves, I kind of think it’s over.”
As Kilrea points out, the Canadian Hockey League is “pretty proud of the Memorial Cup (tournament) and it’s cancelled.” At this point, it makes sense for the NHL to do the same with the Stanley Cup playoffs.
“It’s one of those things where unfortunately you’re just going to have to say that because of this, there’s no winner,” said Kilrea. “It’s tough on teams like Boston and (coach) Bruce Cassidy who thought they had a legitimate chance to win it. And St. Louis is coming back … so many teams thought maybe they had a chance to win a Stanley Cup. But I think more important than the Stanley Cup is the health of people that would have to go to the games, or want to go to the games, and also the players that would have to be together.
“You’d hate like hang to see them all of sudden think it’s over, then come back, and have another outbreak. I kind of think the humane thing would be to say that, unfortunately, we have to make it over. If they can delay the Olympics and they can delay everything else, they can with NHL season.
“This is a health thing, for the good of the players and fans. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with saying, we know it’s tough, but hopefully we’ll get over and be ready for September.”
Closer to Kilrea’s heart, of course, is the 67’s. The current edition was ranked No. 2 in the country when the plug was pulled on the junior hockey season.
Kilrea, who coached the team to Memorial Cup championships in 1984 and ’99, thought current bench boss Andre Tourigny had a solid shot at bringing Ottawa a third.
“It is tough. He had a team that lost last year, that was close to going to the Memorial Cup,” said Kilrea. “It was almost like this team wanted to make sure they got to the Memorial Cup.
Now I’m not discounting Peterborough, Oshawa, London, Saginaw or whoever else might have thought they had a chance, but we were one of four or five teams in the OHL that had a good chance of representing.
“I think the players, the ones that returned, almost were going to do everything they could to get there. They had proved it. How many win streaks did they have that were incredible? Road and home. Holy smokes. When you think of it the dedication that they all put into it.
“It’s tough on them because it looked like they were on a mission.”
With six games left when play was suspended, the 67’s had already tied the franchise record for most wins (50) established by the 1983-84 team and equalled by the 2018-19 squad, while losing only 11 times.
The franchise mark for fewest losses is 11, which was set by the 1996-97 team. Last year’s 67’s suffered 12 defeats.
Of all the good and great teams over the years, is it possible this was the best ever?
“I don’t know, it’s probably one of them,” said Kilrea. “It’s a hard thing to say because the end goal is winning a Memorial Cup. I can tell you that the one that we won in ’99 might not have been the best team I ever had, but we won the Memorial Cup. The one in ’84, I don’t know, when they start talking about this defence, we had Brad Shaw, Mark Paterson, Bruce Cassidy, Roy Myllari and Darren Pang in the nets. Not a bad defensive core. They were all pretty good players.”
Kilrea also gave honourable mention to the 1972-73 team that had a 41-15-7 record and was led by Denis Potvin, who had 35 goals, 123 points and 232 penalty minutes in his last season of junior hockey. They were swept in the OHA semifinals by the Toronto Marlboros, who were 47-7-9 during the season and wound up prevailing in a Memorial Cup tournament that included the Quebec Remparts.
The Marlies had Mike Palmateeer in goal, Mark and Marty Howe on defence and Wayne Dillion, Peter Marrin, Paulin Bordeleau, Glenn Goldup and Bruce Boudreau pacing the attack.
“They got beat out, but there was some pretty good talent that beat them out,” said Kilrea. “I don’t think there’s anything wrong with me saying it … this was one of the best, and they were trying to prove that they were the best.”
It’s certainly a good debate, one that’s been hashed over by Killer and his cronies following his afternoon shift at Chances R, and will be again.
Among the regulars around that round table is Nick Bouris, the primary owner of the restaurant. Bouris has proven to be a pandemic MVP to his staff of 65, letting them know that twice a week he’ll have a cook come in and prepare meals they can pick up and bring home to their families.
“He’s going to feed the staff twice a week, just because he knows they’re having hard times,” said Kilrea. “Isn’t that something?”
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