Former junior hockey player a ‘consummate teammate’
‘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.
Bill Kitchen, second from left, shares a laugh with former Ottawa 67’s coach Brian Kilrea at an alumni game.