Lessons from the past
From behind the bench of the Ottawa 67’s, Brian Kilrea coached his way to more than a dozen division titles and a pair of Memorial Cup championships. Over the course of more than four decades, the Hockey Hall of Fame inductee – who carries the moniker “Killer” – coached hundreds of young players, including future NHL stars Doug Wilson and Jim Fox.
Along the way, Mr. Kilrea developed some of the same skills common to many successful human resources professionals, such as selecting talent, managing newcomers to the team and staying connected with prospects.
Now retired from coaching, but still general manager of the 67’s, Mr. Kilrea reflected on some of the HR lessons he’s learned.
“When we scout them or bring them in, you’re looking for kids that want to work and want to get better, but they have to have some talent. It is very difficult coming in. They work all summer to get in shape and then they come down for a training camp that consists of four days. I always tell the kids the same thing: you’ve got four days to make the team, and I have four days to pick a team.”
ON MANAGING EXPECTATIONS:
“Sometimes it is tough on them because they come in and were stars when they were drafted and they start on the fourth line where they don’t get as much ice time or play on the power play. It is difficult for them, but you just have to let them know that it is a tougher league.”
ON MANAGING SKILLS:
“Some (opposing) coaches will (notice) when you put these young kids out on the ice. All of a sudden, they’ll make a quick change and put their (older players out) against them and sometimes you have to line juggle, and that means (your younger players) don’t play as much. But they learn and adjust and, in the second half of the year, they can contribute.”
“The little guy that comes in and may be 155 or 160 pounds can get in shape in a day, whereas the big guys, sometimes it takes a little bit longer for them to get going and adjust. You always have to keep it in the back of your mind that you need to be a little more patient with some of the bigger kids that may take a bit more time.”
ON DECISION MAKING:
“I never look back (and question my choices). If you make a decision, you stick by it and go with it. When you send a player back, it doesn’t mean he can’t be brought back up. Someone could go back home and excel, and we have the option of bringing him back to play with us at Christmas or when they get eliminated at the end of the year. Sometimes it is in their best interest to go back somewhere where they are going to play a lot, rather than play with us.”
ON FIXING PERFORMANCE ISSUES:
“(When it comes to fixing bad habits) on the ice, you need to make sure they work hard. If they are trying to take shortcuts, you need to make sure they realize that hard work beats the shortcut. When we see them dogging a little bit, we emphasize that you have to work hard.”
“You have to understand that when they come here, they all want to make the team. It is a disappointment when they go back, but they are not out of sight. When they go back, you want to make sure they know that you are still going to follow them and take an interest in them. You want to see them play; let them know you are there and talk to them. Just let them know you are there to see the hard work they are doing.”
Brian Kilrea, seen here coaching in the ’70s, says it’s important to stay in touch with prospects that aren’t immediately brought on board.