In the NCAA there’s Bob Knight and Pat Summitt. In the NBA there’s Phil Jackson and Red Auerbach. And in MLB there’s Connie Mack and Tony LaRussa.
But the greatest coach in history resides in Ottawa, Ontario and not with the Senators.
Yes, it’s Brian Kilrea of the Ottawa 67’s.
The 67’s play in the Ontario Hockey League and is the leading developmental league in the World for Junior Hockey players ages 16-20 and Brian Kilrea has won over 1,100 games in 30 years with that franchise.
Think about that for a second. To break that record (1,193 to be exact) a coach would have to win 40 Games in a 68 Game Season for 30 years. Most coaches are lucky nowadays to coach for three years let alone thirty.
Kilrea was a good, but not great, hockey player in the 1950’s and 60’s with his best year coming in 1961-62 with the Springfield Indians of the American Hockey League recording 93 Points in 70 Games playing on the same team as some guy named Don Cherry. Kilrea would break through to the NHL on two occasions playing 1 Game with the 1957-58 Detroit Red Wings and 1967-68 Los Angeles Kings scoring the first goal in that franchise’s not-so-illustrious history, with 25 games in that season.
But he had trips all over North American in his playing days from Hamilton to Troy to Edmonton to Detroit to Springfield to Los Angeles to Vancouver to Tulsa to Rochester and finally playing with the Denver Spurs in the 1969-70 season to conclude his playing career. He would then head home to his hometown Ottawa 67’s and coached that team starting in the 1974-75 season.
His first 10 years he won an astounding 431 of 748 games and moved on to the New York Islanders as an assistant coach from 1984-86 but as that team collapsed from their dynasty years he returned back to Ottawa to fill out the rest of his career and set new records from 1986 ‘til now (save for a brief retirement in the 1994-95 season where he was replaced by former OHL Goal King Peter Lee).
Kilrea was coach for 30 years and had an under-.500 record only 6 times, his worst coming in 1992-93 winning only 16 of 66 games. But his positives far outweigh the negatives.
To start, his record 1,193 will probably never be broken and he broke the previous record on January 17, 1997. He’s a five-time OHL Coach of the Year (1981, ’82, ’96, ’97, ’03) and has the CHL Coach of the Year award named after him. He’s won 2 Memorial Cups (1984 in Kitchener and in 1999 as the host defeating the Calgary Hitmen 7-6 in Overtime in the final game on May 23 of that year) and made the Ontario Hockey League Championship seven times, winning it twice). He’s also coached over 2,000 games (he reached that mark in February 2007) and finally in 2003 he was awarded the highest honour in hockey, induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame in the Builder’s Category.
Brian Kilrea announced a farewell tour from coaching at the beginning of this hockey season and hasn’t looked back. His 67’s are the people’s darkhorse as we begin the Ontario Hockey League playoff run. It’s not impossible that he’s taken a team from unknowns to league champions, or close to it. In 2005, when the National Hockey League was in their lockout, the Ottawa 67’s came from sixth in their conference to play the ferocious London Knights where they would be defeated in the finals, but London was host of the Memorial Cup so Ottawa got in. Ottawa would be defeated before the finals between Sidney Crosby’s Rimouski Océanic and the victorious London Knights. Kilrea will still be General Manager of the 67’s.
On behalf of hockey fans everywhere, thank you Mr. Kilrea for your fine contribution to our sport and best of luck in your future retirement.