Ottawa Citizen

Kil­rea was once the king of Kings

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The glory days have fi­nally ar­rived for the Los An­ge­les Kings, but let’s take you all the way back to the opening game in fran­chise his­tory, a 4-2 vic­tory over the Philadel­phia Fly­ers at the Long Beach Arena on Oct. 14, 1967.

Long be­fore the ap­pear­ances of Ro­gie Vachon, the Triple Crown Line and the Bruce McNall and Wayne Gret­zky eras, a 32-year-old named Brian Kil­rea found him­self in the right place at the right time.

Kil­rea was set up by line­mates Low­ell Mac­Don­ald and Ted Irvin and beat Philadel­phia goal­tender Doug Favell to score the Kings’ first ever goal. Kil­rea later added an as­sist and an emp­tynet goal to pre­serve the fran­chise’s first win, ce­ment­ing his place in the colour­ful (the orig­i­nal squad sported those gaudy pur­ple and yel­low uni­forms) his­tory of the or­ga­ni­za­tion.

“Sure, it brings back mem­o­ries,” Kil­rea said Wed­nes­day from his Ottawa 67’s of­fice, where his ten­ure as coach and/or gen­eral man­ager lasted 33 years be­fore his re­tire­ment as GM last year. “It’s the one record that Wayne Gret­zky couldn’t break.”

Self-dep­re­cat­ing hu­mour aside, Kil­rea was a play­mak­ing Amer­i­can Hockey League cen­tre who had paid his dues and de­served his shot in the big leagues when the Na­tional Hockey League ex­panded to 12 teams from six in 1967.

Af­ter playing a sin­gle game with the Detroit Red Wings in 1957, Kil­rea spent a decade in hockey’s mi­nor leagues be­fore fi­nally re­turn­ing to the big league with the Kings. From 1959-60 through 196667, Kil­rea scored 162 goals and 417 as­sists in 552 games for the leg­endary Spring­field In­di­ans, where he also played a piv­otal role in im­prov­ing playing con­di­tions un­der Ed­die Shore and the evo­lu­tion of the NHL Players’ As­so­ci­a­tion.

Kil­rea was one of count­less former Spring­field players who made the jump to the NHL with the Kings in 1967.

Nat­u­rally, the puck from that first goal takes cen­tre stage on the man­tle in his base­ment in Ottawa South, right? Guess again.

“I never re­al­ized how big it was at the time, the first goal for the fran­chise,” he says. “The trainer gave me the puck, but, af­ter the game, (Kings owner) Jack Kent Cooke was go­ing around, con­grat­u­lat­ing ev­ery­body on the win. I waited around and gave the puck to him and said, ‘I think the puck means more to you than me.’ You would have thought I gave him a ruby, he was so thrilled.

“But I have no idea where that puck is today. (Cooke) brought hockey to the West Coast. He tried to do ev­ery­thing for the players. At the time, get­ting the first goal wasn’t as im­por­tant as get­ting the win.”

Kil­rea led the NHL in scor­ing dur­ing the opening week of the sea­son and ended up with three goals and five as­sists in 25 games with the Kings. Yet it wasn’t La-La Land for him. Kil­rea felt lost amid the heat and hus­tle of big-city Cal­i­for­nia life. The roads, he says, “went ev­ery­where and any­where, and I was just this lit­tle guy from Ottawa.” His par­ents also had health is­sues back here and he wanted to be closer to home.

Then a bizarre thing hap­pened: He asked to be shipped back to the mi­nors, which also meant a drop in salary to $9,500 from $16,500.

“I think I was the first guy to ask to be sent from Los An­ge­les to Spring­field,” said Kil­rea, now 77. “It was just too hot. You would see guys com­ing to the rink with shorts on. It just wasn’t a hockey at­mos­phere for me. I had trou­ble with the heat. Sure, it was a pay cut, but I never played for money. I cer­tainly never made big money playing for Ed­die Shore. I knew they weren’t go­ing to build around a 32-year-old.”

Kil­rea played an­other two mi­nor-league sea­sons be­fore re­turn­ing to Ottawa, where he fell into coach­ing.

He went on to make a last­ing im­pres­sion on two gen­er­a­tions of teenaged players with the 67’s, earn­ing his spot in the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2003.

There are no re­grets about his NHL days. Ex­cept, maybe, for the Kings colour scheme.

“It was dif­fer­ent,” Kil­rea said. “But that was one of (Cooke’s) ideas, to be dis­tinc­tive. It wasn’t pur­ple; he called it ‘Royal Blue.’ I don’t know about some of the other (sweaters) … the yel­low, or I guess they would have called it gold.”

Leap­ing ahead 45 years, Kil­rea is im­pressed by what the un­der­dog Kings have ac­com­plished, and he’s a fan of coach Dar­ryl Sut­ter. Just the same, he’s not im­pressed with the over­all NHL em­pha­sis on de­fence at all costs. He yawned ear­lier in the post­sea­son as the New York Rangers em­ployed a pas­sive style that re­lied on shot block­ing to de­feat the Ottawa Se­na­tors and Wash­ing­ton Cap­i­tals.

“I try to stay up at least for the first pe­riod and watch Don Cherry,” he said. “The games are not re­ally what you would con­sider games that are en­ter­tain­ing. It’s like a game of check­ers. You jump past one guy, you elim­i­nate him, and then an­other guy elim­i­nates you. It be­comes a one-on-one and you dump it into the cor­ner so you change. It’s sys­tem­atic hockey. It’s tough to watch.”

Kil­rea re­mains a king of the one lin­ers. Once upon a time, he was also the king of the Kings.

 ??  ??
 ?? WAYNE CUD­DING­TON, THE OT­TAWA CIT­I­ZEN ?? Long-time Ot­tawa 67’s coach and gen­eral man­ager Brian Kil­rea will for­ever hold the dis­tinc­tion of scor­ing the first goal for the Los An­ge­les Kings in a reg­u­lar-sea­son game in 1967. But the puck isn’t on his man­tle.
WAYNE CUD­DING­TON, THE OT­TAWA CIT­I­ZEN Long-time Ot­tawa 67’s coach and gen­eral man­ager Brian Kil­rea will for­ever hold the dis­tinc­tion of scor­ing the first goal for the Los An­ge­les Kings in a reg­u­lar-sea­son game in 1967. But the puck isn’t on his man­tle.

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