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67’s have good egg in Kiriakou

Wayne Scanlan, The Ottawa Citizen

The story begins, as so many stories do, with an egg.

Not an egg that hatched, but one that was cracked over a hot stove in 1958 — by Gerry Kiriakou, a Macedonian immigrant who arrived from northern Greece in 1951.

It was in ’58 that Gerry Kiriakou, the late, great-grandfather of Ottawa 67’s centre Thomas Kiriakou, opened a restaurant that has become a breakfast institution in Scarborough, a few highway miles away from the Oshawa rink in which the 67’s put themselves into a 2-0 Ontario Hockey League playoff hole on Easter Sunday.

Fifty years after the opening, this Lawrence Avenue East restaurant is still lovingly run by the Kiriakou family, including Thomas’ father, also named Gerry, Thomas’ aunt Peggy, his uncle Tony and his grandfather, Tommy, after whom Thomas was named.

And that single cracked egg in ’58? The number has grown to 720 million eggs cracked, cooked and served, according to the best calculations of the family’s top mathematicians.

“My cousin George sat down and crunched all the numbers, and apparently it’s exactly right,” Thomas says.

Over the years, my father, Bern, has done his best to coax those egg totals along, especially on Sunday mornings.

As for Thomas Kiriakou, he has broken a few eggs, in the best hockey sense, in the OHL corners and creases this season. The 20-year-old from Richmond Hill has quietly been a huge help in what has been one of the 67’s most trying seasons, a season of bizarre injuries, illness and uncertainty.

When the team’s biggest stars, forwards Jamie McGinn and Logan Couture, missed bunches of games or tried to play through injuries, role players such as Kiriakou and Matthieu Methot kept the 67’s above water.

With McGinn and Couture limited to 51 games and 58 points each, the contributions by Kiriakou and Methot in 66 games played — each with 41 points — made a playoff spot manageable. Methot had 22 goals, Kiriakou, 15 goals and 26 assists.

“He’s more the goal scorer,” Kiriakou says of his linemate and roommate, Methot, an Ottawa native.

“I just try to set him up.”

Brian Kilrea, the 67’s head coach and general manager, calls Kiriakou the “big brother” to all the young players who join the 67’s.

Since joining Ottawa just before the run to the Memorial Cup tournament in London in 2005, Kiriakou has taken it upon himself to be the club’s goodwill ambassador.

Kilrea trusts him with his life — and with his credit card. In deference to Kiriakou’s selfless efforts to show new players around town, Kilrea will occasionally slip Thomas his card to pay some gas and restaurant tabs that Kiriakou would otherwise pick up himself.

“From Day 1, I have not had a problem with him, on or off the ice,” Kilrea says of Kiriakou. “Others, I check to see that they’re in their room. Thomas, I don’t have to.”

While Kiriakou hopes to earn a pro tryout next fall — and Kilrea will try to facilitate it — if he needs a soft landing, the 67’s coach would love to have Thomas back as one of his overage players.

Last summer, Kiriakou pushed himself as never before, dropping 12 pounds to report at a powerful 202 pounds. He was careful around all that family restaurant food.

“If I was in the Kiriakou inner family,” Kilrea says, “I’d be 300 pounds by now.”

Kiriakou had a cousin, George, who played some junior hockey in the Toronto area, but was more interested in parties. He regrets not fully dedicating himself to hockey.

Kiriakou is determined not to make that mistake.

Another cousin, Mike Zigomanis, was a star with the OHL Kingston Frontenacs and is in the Phoenix Coyotes organization.

Kiriakou’s father and mother, Diane, didn’t push him in the game.

“I never played,” Gerry says. “We always told him hockey was secondary. It was more important to be good to everyone, to be yourself.”

In 2004, Kiriakou was part of a Richmond Hill Stars team, coached by former NHLer Jerome Dupont, that reached the final of the OHL Cup for minor midget prospects.

Sixteen players on that Richmond Hill club were drafted into the OHL. By the next spring, Kilrea had Kiriakou in the lineup for a couple of games in the OHL final against London.

The kid went along for the ride to London, when both teams qualified for the Memorial Cup.

This year’s team isn’t thinking that far ahead, not when it already has its hands full with John Tavares and the Generals.

“Last year, we went home way too early,” says Kiriakou, in his third season with the 67’s. “I think I was home April 1. I really don’t want to be home by April 1 this year.”

The 67’s have been in deeper holes against Oshawa, but no one seems interested in trying to relive the historic 1988 series comeback from being down three games to none. Instead, they’re looking at tonight’s game at the Civic Centre as one they have to have. So, keep your young head up, Mr. Tavares.

“Playoff hockey is totally different from the regular season,” Kiriakou says. “After the game, if you’re not wearing an ice pack, you weren’t grinding it out.”

Come to think of it, crashing into corners isn’t so different from cracking an egg.

After practising it a few million times, there’s nothing to it.

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