For­mer ju­nior hockey player a ‘con­sum­mate team­mate’

National Post (National Edition) - - REMEMBERING -

‘Bill had a mar­vel­lous abil­ity to take plea­sure in the ac­com­plish­ments of oth­ers. Of all the hun­dreds of guys I played with over the years, that comes to mind right away. He was such a happy guy’ — Bob Smith, for­mer team­mate on the Ot­tawa 67’s

Ot­tawa 67’s leg­end Bob Smith said his jaw just dropped when he opened an email at his Phoenix, Ari., home early Tues­day morn­ing to learn of the sud­den pass­ing of his for­mer 67’s team­mate Bill Kitchen.

“I’m frig­gin’ numb,” Smith said, “I am just shocked.”

Shock was a word used of­ten as the news spread quickly throughout the Ot­tawa hockey and busi­ness com­mu­ni­ties that the ever-pop­u­lar Kitchen had died Mon­day at age 51 as a re­sult of an ap­par­ent mas­sive heart at­tack while kayak­ing at his cottage.

To those who crossed paths with Kitchen, he al­ways seemed so in­vin­ci­ble. He ran long dis­tances. He kept him­self in top shape. He looked af­ter him­self.

“Bill had a mar­vel­lous abil­ity to take plea­sure in the ac­com­plish­ments of oth­ers,” Smith con­tin­ued, com­par­ing Kitchen with a for­mer NHL great and team­mate. “He re­minds me of Neal Broten [a mem­ber of the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame] that way. Of all the hun­dreds of guys I played with over the years, that comes to mind right away.

“He was such a happy guy. He be­came part of the 67’s al­most the minute he ar­rived. He un­der­stood ju­nior hockey. He had learned well from his older brother Mike.

“I re­mem­ber we used to do con­di­tion­ing drills where we would do the up and back and you had 30 sec­onds. So the quicker you did it the more time you had to rest in be­tween sprints. Bill would race up the ice and back and — it seemed — never take a breath.

“He was an NHL skater. He was big and he was al­ways fit. And he stood up for ev­ery­one on his team. It was just his puck skills that kind of held him back.”

Kitchen’s 67’s to­tals read: 186 games played, 15 goals and 56 points, though his con­tri­bu­tions were never mea­sured in num­bers.

Kitchen, a na­tive of tiny Schomberg, a town half­way be­tween Toronto and Bar­rie, ar­rived in Ot­tawa in the fall of 1977 as a wide-eyed and ea­ger No. 1 draft pick, try­ing to help fill some big holes on de­fence from a 67’s team fresh off a trip to the Memo­rial Cup fi­nal against the New West­min­ster Bru­ins.

The ex­pec­ta­tions were that if young de­fence­men Kitchen and fel­low draftee Doug Cross­man could sup­port the vet­eran corps of Jeff Geiger, Ed Hospo­dar and Buddy Clouthier, the high-scor­ing 67 ’s would be right back at the Memo­rial Cup the fol­low­ing spring.

The ’ 77-’ 78 edition of the 67 ’s boasted a first line of league scor­ing cham­pion Smith, Tim Higgins and Steve Payne, fol­lowed by a deep cast of for-wards that in­cluded Jim Fox, Yvan Joly, Sean Simp­son, Shane Pearsall, Bjorn Skaare and Dave MacQueen and the ir­re­place­able ver­sa­til­ity of Steve Maren­gere.

The team fin­ished 43-18-7 with an amaz­ing 405 goals-for be­fore be­ing up­set in the playoffs.

Higgins re­calls a “con­sum­mate team­mate” who would jump at the chance to de­fend hulk­ing 6-foot-8 team­mate Rory Cava if that’s what it took. Higgins called Kitchen “ab­so­lutely fear­less.”

He also re­mem­bers that some of Kitchen’s work inside the 67’s end would of­ten leave coach Brian Kil­rea at wit’s end, though not short on words.

“In­vari­ably, once a game Kitch would throw a pass from be­hind our net, right up the mid­dle, and the other team would in­ter­cept it and put it in our net,” Higgins said. “That’s what we called a ‘brick,’ and I re­mem­ber one mid-sea­son game and Kitch throw­ing up a few bricks and skat­ing back to the bench all mad at him­self.

“Killer went down the bench and yelled ‘K-I-T-C-H, if you keep throw­ing up those bricks, the other team is go­ing to have enough bricks to build a house in our end’ and then walked away. Luck­ily, Killer re­ally loved him. He was one of his favourites.”

Kitchen put in a solid three sea­sons with the 67’s, but was passed over in the 1980 NHL draft. In­stead, he earned a mi­nor-league con­tract with the Montreal Cana­di­ens. He spent four full sea­sons with the tal­ent-laden Nova Sco­tia Voyageurs, get­ting rare calls as an emer­gency re­place­ment in Montreal.

He played one game dur­ing the 1981-82 sea­son with the Cana­di­ens and found him­self in a fight. He got into eight games with the Cana­di­ens the fol­low­ing sea­son and three in 1983-84.

Fol­low­ing the 1983-84 sea­son, he signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs and played 29 games in 1984-85 be­fore wind­ing up his pro ca­reer with the Leafs’ AHL af­fil­i­ate, the St. Catharines Saints.

Kitchen re­tired back to Ot­tawa to raise a fam­ily and owned mul­ti­ple Tim Hor­tons out­lets while do­ing solid work in the community, coach­ing mi­nor hockey and play­ing for the Ot­tawa 67’s alumni.

JULIE OLIVER / POST­MEDIA NEWS

Bill Kitchen, sec­ond from left, shares a laugh with for­mer Ottawa 67’s coach Brian Kil­rea at an alumni game.

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