Ottawa is a long way from Los Angeles.
Yet, the older you get, the more you realize the world we live in is actually a rather small place. The hockey world is even smaller.
On October 14, 1967 Brian Kilrea was one of about two dozen players that made up the inaugural L.A. Kings roster. On that specific night, he was skating on a line with Ted Irvine and Lowell MacDonald at the Long Beach Arena. Their new home – The Forum in Inglewood – wouldn’t be ready for a few more months.
About 2,400 miles away in Ottawa, a 17-year old Terry Murray was just beginning his junior hockey career as a defenseman for the Ottawa 67s – as luck would have it, also an expansion team.
Later that night, Kilrea would forever become linked with the Kings, scoring the first goal in franchise history.
Today, the two men have switched teams. Murray is now the coach in Los Angeles and Kilrea is the General Manager back in Ottawa. However, the path that has taken ‘Killer’ (as he’s affectionately known) from the Kings of ’67 to the front office of the 67s, was a road filled with many twists and turns.
A few years after requesting a demotion to the minor leagues during his first season with the Kings, he eventually moved on to a successful coaching career in the OHL – a job that saw him tend herd over teams that once included Jim Fox…and more recently, featured one of the Kings draft picks earlier this summer, Tyler Toffoli.
Along the way he won over 1,100 games behind the bench, led two teams to the Memorial Cup (1984 and 1999), won the OHL title three times, was a five-time OHL Coach of the Year and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2003.
Not bad for a guy that only played 26 NHL games.
In the interview below we cover it all. From the first goal in Kings history to some of the players he’s been associated with throughout his illustrious career.
MM: Take us back to October of ’67. The Kings are playing the Flyers and you score the first-ever goal for the team…
Teddy Irvine carried the puck down the left wing, they went into the corner – he and Lowell McDonald – and they were battling for the puck. They fed it to me in the slot and I got off a quick shot. I wouldn’t say I picked my shot, but I one timed it and it found room to go in. That goal got us back in the game, after being down 2-0. We went on to win that game 4-2. I scored into the empty net with less than a minute to go also.
After the game, Jack Kent Cooke, our owner, came down to the locker room and was going around congratulating everybody for winning the first game. The trainer had already given me the puck from earlier. So, when he came to talk to me, I gave the puck to him. You would have thought I gave him a million dollars or a puck of gold. He was just delighted, smiling from ear to ear. He really treasured that memento, the first goal for the Los Angeles Kings.
Any off ice memories with your linemates or some of the other guys that first season in L.A.?
Well, Teddy Irvine, was a big fella from Winnipeg and they called him Superman. But, I’ll tell you a story about Lowell MacDonald. He was frightful of flights. Red Kelly, our coach at the time, came to me and Teddy, saying “Can you guys sit next to Lowell on the plane?” He put me on one side and Teddy on the other, with McDonnell in between us. We chatted a bit with him and tried to help him. Once we got up in the air I think Lowell relaxed maybe a little. He got over flying later on. But, his first couple of flights were tough.
Jack Kent Cooke was always promoting the Kings, the city of Los Angeles and the Lakers too. He introduced me to Jerry West, which was a big deal to me because I’ve always been a basketball fan. He was a very humble guy too. So, it was a real thrill to just sit there and shoot the breeze with Jerry West one night over a beer.
I also remember Terry Sawchuck. Everybody knows he’s one of the greatest goaltenders of all time. A lot of people didn’t know the side of him I saw off the ice though. He would come to me and ask if there was anything he could do to help me. He was a very approachable and kind person. It’s just terrible that he passed away so young and the way he did.
Over the course of your coaching career you had quite a few players with ties to the Kings organization. What do you remember about Jim Fox?
Jimmy is one of the greatest Ottawa 67s of all time. He’s probably right there with guys like Denis Potvin and Doug Wilson in the top five. He had some of the greatest hands of any player. He was so quick. He saw all of the ice from impossible angles and he always knew the right guy to pass it to. He had a deadly shot too. He was the league’s leading scorer and our MVP. I can’t say enough good things about him. We knew he’d be a star. People kept saying “Well, he’s not that big.” He was good. That’s all that counted!
It doesn’t surprise me at all that he’s also found success in broadcasting because he was somebody that always worked hard to perfect his craft.
Another former Kings player you coached was Warren Rychel, who is now the General Manager in Windsor. Is it odd to see him in that role now?
No. I’m really proud to see Warren as a GM and the success he’s had so far (winning back to back championships). There are a couple of guys I’ve coached as players, that went on the become coaches in the OHL. But, to see Warren in his role and doing well, is truly amazing. Like any farm boy, he just works tirelessly. Twenty hour days are no problems for a guy like that. I know he’s done things like, he went over to the Czech Republic and some other places in Europe this year to make sure he got the right player in the import draft. So, he doesn’t surprise me.
As a player, he was one of those guys that would go into the room and fire up the team. So, he obviously had leadership qualities. But to be honest, I never saw him as somebody that would go into management, where things are more structured – with rules and things like that. But, he’s done a fabulous job.
Prior to joining the Kings in ’67 you played eight seasons for the Springfield Indians in the AHL. That team was owned by the legendary Eddie Shore, who was infamously associated with ‘Old Time Hockey’ in the movie Slap Shot. Tell us a little about those years…
Eddie Shore might have been the meanest man I’ve ever met. All these kids and players that go to teams and say things like “I don’t like this, I don’t like that and this isn’t right…” They should’ve all had to play one year for Eddie Shore. I don’t think they would ever complain about anything else the rest of their lives. When you think about some of the pettiness that they complain about – boy, Eddie Shore would have taken that away from them because he was tough to play for and a tough man. He had his own ideas and his own ways on how to do things. He brought some things that were fundamentally good for hockey, but there were a lot of things with the players where he was tough – like with fines and suspensions.
When you first joined the expansion Kings, the team’s current Head Coach, Terry Murray, was beginning his junior career back in Ottawa. So, you never played with him or coached him, but what are your impressions of one of the first players to ever wear a 67s jersey?
Terry is a guy who has worked hard for everything he’s achieved in life. He’s not a guy who learned hockey from a book. He learned everything by doing it. He’s been a player, an assistant coach, a head coach, etc. He’s slugged through it all. I believe he’s one of the big reasons the Kings were successful last year. I think he’s one of those guys who continues to get better each year. He’ll probably be better as a coach this year than he was last year.
This year the Kings drafted Tyler Toffoli. You coached him his first year in juniors and then watched him develop further last season as the GM. What did the Kings get when they selected him in the second round back in June?
He’s a great play maker, but he’s 18 years old and the expectations should be set accordingly. People should be patient with him and allow him to develop, including filling out physically.
Tyler is one of those guys that’s a better right winger than a center. He can play both, but we feel his strongest position is right wing. He has a great shot. He moves the puck really well. His game needs to be a little more consistent though. And that means up and down the ice. Sometimes he’ll coast to see the play coming. He needs to learn to play a 60-minute game. That’s not a knock. He’s going to be a dandy – but, he’s only 18 years old. For the people that think he’s going to be in the NHL line-up right now, no. He’s not quite ready. But, he will be a star in the future.
After not even playing a full season with the Kings, you wanted out of Los Angeles so badly you actually requested a demotion to the minors – which is unheard of. If Tyler was to see that and then ask you about playing in LA, what would you say?
I would tell Tyler it’s different. I was a guy who was married and had three kids. I also had a sick parent back home and wanted to be closer. It was just a different situation. I’ve told Tyler he should be thrilled to be drafted by Los Angeles. They’re one of the real up and coming teams in the NHL. He’s lucky to be part of that organization. I’ll tell him go, go, go when the time is right.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Time. It sure flies by. Like from October 14, 1967 until today.
Someday, it will be Tyler Toffoli’s time in Los Angeles.
However, the first time will always belong to Brian ‘Killer’ Kilrea.
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