Saturday, July 2, 2011

Hec Kilrea

"Hurricane" Hec Kilrea joined the Ottawa Senators in 1925-26 at the of age 18. The Sens were powered by the great line of Frank Nighbor, Cy Denneny and Hooley Smith, winning the Stanley Cup in 1926-27. Kilrea and fellow substitute Frank Finnigan saw little ice time.

That changed in 1927-28. Amid rumors of financial dire straits, the Ottawa Senators sold Hooley Smith to the Montreal Maroons in exchange for $22,500 and player Punch Broadbent. But the youngsters Kirea and Finnigan began seeing increasing ice time. Kilrea began showing Ottawa fans his blazing speed. He was a speed skating champion, after all.

By 1929-30 Joe Lamb took over as the top center between Kilrea and Finnigan, and the result was career years for both Lamb and Kilrea. Kilrea scored 36 goals - the 5th highest total in the NHL that season.  The biggest benefactor was the Sens, who finished just 1 point out of first place overall that season.

Ottawa's continued financial problems forced the gutting of the team, as top prospects like Syd Howe, Allen Shields and King Clancy were sold off for cash. The result was a last-place finish and Ottawa's withdrawal from the NHL for 1931-32. Kilrea was signed by Jack Adams of the Detroit Falcons while the Senators regrouped. Hec played on a line with Larry Aurie and Ebbie Goodfellow and scored 13 goals.

Ottawa returned to the NHL for 1932-33 and continued in the doldrums, so they sold Kilrea (for Bob Gracie and $10,000) to Toronto where his linemates were Bill Thoms and Buzz Boll. He was with the Maple Leafs for two years when they headed the Canadian Division and beat Boston in the 1935 playoffs. The Leafs lost the Cup to the Montreal Maroons and Kilrea was benched for the final game of the series by Conn Smythe for a drinking incident.

Jack Adams was now manager-coach of the new Detroit Red Wings, and he admired his former teammate of the Senators 1927 Cup winners and again signed Hec for his team. The Wings won two consecutive Stanley Cups with Kilrea playing with Syd Howe and Ebbie Goodfellow. He was the hero of the fifth and deciding game of the 1937 opening round against the Montreal Canadiens when he scored the winning goal at 11:49 of the third overtime period that won the series for Detroit. The Red Wings then beat the New York Rangers in another close series to win its second straight Stanley Cup. He played three more seasons with Detroit and now was showing his age.

Finally he was sent to the minors after 12 games in 1939-40 and this is where he completed his career.

After his retirement from professional hockey he became an U.S. citizen. Like many other players he enlisted for military service in World War II. He would receive the Distinguished Service Cross (the second highest military decoration of the United States Army), Purple Heart and French Croix de Guerre.

After returning to civilian life he worked with Ford in Detroit until he retired.

Born in Blackburn, Ont. June 11th, 1907, Hec Kilrea died after a long illness on October 8th, 1969


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