Rock Out With Your Hitchcock Out
Don't know about you, but there's one former Dallas coach I miss more than any other: Ken Hitchcock, ex of Your Dallas Stars. And, from an interview he gives in a forthcoming issue of Canadian general-interest mag Macleans, it would seem Hitch also misses Dallas -- at least, those glory days when a team populated by the likes of Brett Hull and Craig Ludwig and Joe Nieuwendyk won the Stanley Cup in 1999 and he was the beloved Captain Kangaroo figure with the well-hidden temper on his way to alienating his star Stars. Now with the Columbus Blue Jackets after his stint in Philly, Hitch talked to the mag's Kenneth Whyte (in a piece that's not yet online) about "dynamics in the dressing room, leadership and making sacrifices," more or less, but it occasionally came across as more of a look back at what made that old Stars team so great.
After the jump, a few quotes from the former coach -- who, turns out, isn't afraid of dropping the "s"-bomb on a reporter in the very first sentence of a Q&A. Seems very Parcells of him. --Robert Wilonsky
Q: You wouldn't have any way of knowing this, but you were the first person I spoke to as a professional journalist when I worked for the Sherwood Park News.
A: Holy shit! Really? How long ago was that?
Q: About 25 years...
A: I remember! That was when I was coaching midget. You were there when we went to the Cup.
Q: What's the biggest difference between coaching those kids and the Columbus Blue Jackets?
A: Well, when I was coaching midget, I was maybe four or five years older than the players. So there was this emotional connection--I'd be going through the same thing they were every day, up and down. I really felt a part of it, emotionally. Now, with this team today, it's also a very young team, and it sometimes feels like I'm coaching in midget or junior hockey again, but I can stand back and say, "This is where they're at, and this is where I need them to go." Also, when I coached in midget, the only team that I could follow closely was the Edmonton Oilers, and so everything we did was to play their way. It was during their heyday and the whole game was based on offence, full-court pressure, pinching your defencemen all the time. And that's the way I coached right up until '96.
Q: What happened in '96?
A: I went to Dallas as head coach and we didn't have the foot speed to play the way I was used to playing. I tried to put in my system and we got killed some games. I mean, we just got killed. And so in the summer of '96, I sat down with Bob Gainey, the general manager, and we reflected on how they played, and I learned a new way to coach. I learned the reality of the word pressure, but also position play became really, really important. I was lucky--Gainey was a great teacher. I've had two general managers, Gainey in Dallas and Bob Clarke at my last job in Philadelphia, and both guys have taught me a ton. Bob knew the kind of character it took to win and the courage that it took to win. He was really, really good at the emotional part of the game...
Q: When you talk about leadership in the dressing room and that old Oilers team, I think of Mark Messier.
A: He's a great, great leader. He cut to the chase inside the locker room. There's been other players like that--Steve Yzerman, Keith Primeau for us in Philadelphia, Adam Foote here in Columbus. I had guys like Carbonneau, Keane, Skrudland, Ludwig in Dallas. I mean, in Dallas everyone talked about Brett Hull and Mike Modano, and those guys are great players, they're great players, but the core group of guys like Mike Keane and Craig Ludwig and Joe Nieuwendyk and Brian Skrudland, those were the players that cut to the chase.
Q: By that you mean they keep the energy level high, the commitment high?
A: They kept the commitment high, the energy high, the sacrifice high. They never let up. I remember one time in Dallas, four or five of them came into the coach's office in the year we won the Cup, and they said, "Relax, we got it. You can now back off." And they said that to me, because they were, for the last two or three years, much more demanding on themselves than I could ever be.