Behind the Bench with….. Brian Kilrea

By Stephen J. Holodinsky
Brian Kilrea, affectionately called ‘Killer’ by some, is the Head Coach and GM of the OHL’s Ottawa 67’s. Kilrea, has just finished his 25th season behind the bench with the club, and in the high pressure world of junior hockey, that qualifies him for Gordie Howe status in terms of longevity. Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with Coach Kilrea following his team’s demise in a tough six game series vs the Belleville Bulls.

Hockey’s Future: Outside of the fact that you failed to defend your Memorial Cup how was the Ottawa 67’s year?

Brian Kilrea: We had a good team but we’re a bit snakebit in the playoffs with injuries. Belleville, at that time, were the better team.

HF: Did any players take a big step forward?

BK: Biggest step forward would have to have been our goaltender, Levente Szuper. His overall game jumped to a new level and became a difference-maker for us

HF: Try to define the following players on your team by matching them up with the NHLer their style is closest to:

Dan Tessier – Peter Zezel. Great on face-offs.

Joe Talbot – Keith Acton. Pesky, in your face type player.

Jonathon Zion – Phil Housely. Smooth handling the puck.

Lance Galbraith – Wendel Clark. A battler, never say die attitude.

Miguel Delisle – Has the release to be a Mike Bossy type-sniper

HF: Who is the player on the 67’s that no one has heard of yet but will hear of two years from now?

BK: Brendan Bell-Good puck moving defenseman, great defensive instincts

HF: What is the ‘Brian Kilrea philosophy’ of what makes a good hockey player?

BK: Willingness to improve and do whatever it takes to improve however long it takes.

HF: Is there a player or players you have coached in Ottawa that epitomizes the ‘Brian Kilrea philosophy’ of what makes a good hockey player?

BK: Andrew Cassels, Mike Peca, Alyn McCauley

HF: Who was the biggest surprise as a player over your career in Ottawa?

BK: Mike Peca. Showed up every night, wouldn’t quit.

HF: Has your style of coaching evolved as a coach since the start of your career?

BK: No, I think my emphasis on skating, shooting, and handling the puck has been consistent with my coaching technique throughout my career.

HF: Is there a young coach out there in the CHL that reminds you of yourself, say 20 years ago? Why?

BK: No, there are many good coaches at this level, and they all have their own way of getting the most out of their players so I don’t really see myself in any of them.

HF: Has the OHL changed since you first started coaching in the league? How?

BK: It has changed as there is definitely more emphasis on education. In the old days, the focus was much more on hockey and education took a backseat. Now, the education has an equal billing in the CHL with hockey.

HF: The common belief is that if you want a rough and tumble defenseman you draft out of the WHL, if you want a high-scoring forward you look to the QMJHL. On that basis what is the OHL noted for?

BK: I don’t buy into that theory. I believe that which positions are ‘hot’ in any particular league is a cyclical process. Sometimes you’ll get high caliber forwards in the OHL, sometimes great goaltenders in the WHL, sometimes high-quality blueliners in the Q.

HF: How would you compare the CHL to the NCAA in terms of style and how successful each is in preparing players for the NHL?

BK: I don’t think there is any right or wrong way when comparing these two methods. Both work in their own way, and that is what’s most important.

HF: What is the difference between relating to players on a junior hockey level and on a pro level?

BK: In Junior it is more of a educational process and a player will get a chance to learn from his mistakes, whereas in the pro game, if a player doesn’t put out to the utmost of his abilities over a period of time, he will be replaced in the lineup by someone who will.

HF: Can you compare the Ottawa Senators situation to that of the 67’s?

BK: We have a great relationship with the Senators and are very thankful for it. Our players have the chance to see the brass ring they’re grasping for up close and it’s a good motivator.

HF: What was your greatest accomplishment as a coach of the 67’s?

BK: Winning the Memorial Cup in Ottawa last year.

HF: How long do you plan on coaching?

BK: It’s a year by year commitment now because of my health. If I can’t give everything I have to the team, it wouldn’t be fair to them to maintain my place in their organization.

HF: After you decide to hang up the whistle, what would you like your peers to remember you for?

BK: Just that we tried to do the best job that we could.

Hockey’s Future and Stephen J. Holodinsky would like to thank Brian Kilrea for taking the time to talk to us on this occasion.

Stephen J. Holodinsky is a free lance writer/journalist who is presently working on a collection of short stories as well as a screenplay. In addition to his columns here at Hockey’s Future he also is a regular contributor on and Addict Fantasy Sports (Tip_Ins). Stephen has recently returned from a 10 year journey through Europe that started in 1989 and was extended because he lost his passport while hitchiking through Germany in 1990. He speaks fluent German and can say ‘Hello’, ‘Good Morning’, ‘Please’, or ‘Thank You’ in a half_dozen other languages.