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Ottawa 67's coach Brian Kilrea to reach milestone game No. 2,000
Canadian Press
Feb 1, 2007, 9:03 PM EST

OTTAWA (CP) - Coaches, like milestones, come and go, says Brian Kilrea.

So, on the eve of his 2,000th game behind the bench of the Ontario Hockey League's Ottawa 67's, the 72-year-old has to admit he's surprised even himself by making it this far. "Any coach other than Scotty Bowman that thought they'd be there forever would be lying," Kilrea said Thursday from the Ottawa Civic Centre, where the 67's meet the Toronto-St. Michael's Majors on Friday in another milestone night for the Hockey Hall of Famer.

The Ottawa native, the winningest all-time coach in Canadian major-junior history, becomes the first to reach the mark, and he does it while the club is celebrating its 40th anniversary and his 30th season in charge.

He'll be honoured with a pre-game ceremony before the nationally televised contest.

"It's not like when we won the Memorial Cup or when we got to 1,000 wins, (but) it's posting a number and being proud of it," he said.

Kilrea, who also serves as Ottawa's general manager, was hired by an ownership that included Howard Darwin and Earl Montagano.

He took over from another Hockey Hall of Fame member, Leo Boivin, on May 8, 1974.

With the exception of the 1984-85 and 1985-86 seasons when he left to become Al Arbour's assistant with the NHL's New York Islanders, and 1994-95 when he moved into the 67's front office for health reasons and allowed ex-Ottawa star Peter Lee to coach the team, he's been a constant.

"This is longevity at its best," said his longtime friend and assistant Bert O'Brien.

"It's just a thing that every year you say, 'Well, can you do it again?' I look at him in the summer and he's just chomping at the bit getting ready to go, so what do you do? You go back for another one."

Kilrea was long into his coaching career when any of his current players were born and the idea of lasting 2,000 games is tough for them to wrap their heads around.

"It's just amazing," said 67's left-winger Jamie McGinn, a San Jose Sharks prospect. "Me - I'd probably get sick of hockey by then, but he just loves it so much."

Kilrea already stood in rare company as one of only three coaches to reach 1,000 career victories, a milestone he hit in March 2003 - the same year he was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

The only two other coaches to hit the 1,000-win mark are Bowman and John Brophy.

The 73-year-old Bowman is now retired but serves as a consultant to the Detroit Red Wings. Brophy, at 74, still coaches the Richmond Renegades of the Southern Professional Hockey League.

Bowman, who coached 2,141 games at the NHL level - winning 1,244 of them, was Kilrea's mentor when he first stepped behind the bench.

"On Saturday nights I'd go down to watch Scotty Bowman and Montreal," Kilrea recalled. "Just to see what they were doing this time, if they were doing things; try to bring them back here."

Kilrea will be seeking his 1,116th career victory on Friday and those around him don't see any signs of him slowing down.

"He's still got the burn in him," said Tim Higgins, who played for Kilrea in the mid-to-late '70s, moved on to a long NHL playing and scouting career and finally returned to serve as an associated coach with the 67's earlier this season.

"Some guys are always looking to move up, but he's always been very content where he is because he's a simple person. He doesn't look for life's extravagant things. He looks for a comfort zone and he found it. I think that's a good lesson for everybody in life."

Like Bowman, Kilrea carries a reputation for being tough on his players.

Underneath his cigar-chomping, gruff exterior, however, the players - past and present - see a big heart.

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