Bench boss back in business

DAVID W. UNKLE -- For SLAM! Sports

, Last Updated: 8:36 PM ET

PHILADELPHIA—Columbus Blue Jackets head coach, Ken Hitchcock could barely contain himself, despite coming up on the losing end of a 3-2 tilt against the Philadelphia Flyers in Friday’s matinee game at the Wachovia Center.

Relieved from his role as head coach of the Flyers in October following the team’s 1-6-1 start, Hitchcock was offered a job as a pro scout for the Flyers, and was often spotted in various rinks around the American Hockey League.

So how did Hitchcock like his brief tenure as a scout?

“Scouting sucks…it just sucks.”

Hitchcock expanded on his exploits over the last few weeks, stating, “You go to the wrong door, the (security) guy won’t let you into the rink because you don’t have the right ID, you miss the train back (home), you try to find the hotel, all that kind of screwy stuff.”

“Whatever those guys make, they ought to get a raise because scouting sucks,” offered Hitchcock.

But what really had Hitchcock grinning like the Cheshire Cat was the opportunity to get behind the bench with the Blue Jackets.

Unlike the under-performing, veteran squads he inherited in Dallas and Philadelphia, Hitchcock now has a much-younger team that has failed to live up to expectations. In fact, the dismal surroundings in Columbus have led some NHL-observers to consider the Blue Jackets the equivalent of the NFL Arizona Cardinals—the team can’t win, regardless of the talent brought in.

Despite players like winger Rick Nash, (whom Hitchcock inserted as a pivot between David Vyborny and Fredrik Modin), Adam Foote, Sergei Fedorov, and Anson Carter, the Blue Jackets have prevailed only in keeping the Flyers from becoming the doormat of the NHL.

“This is a whole different atmosphere (in Columbus)…our (goal) is respectability. The pressure on me in Columbus is to build a team, and we have to take baby steps,” explained Hitchcock.

In five full seasons with the Dallas Stars, Hitchcock averaged 48 wins, including a Stanley Cup in his third year. With the Flyers, Hitchcock averaged 43 wins in his three seasons, before being fired eight games into the 2006-07 season.

Hitchcock will be extremely challenged to match the early successes he enjoyed with his Dallas and Philadelphia squads, in Columbus.

“If we can continue to take the steps like we did (against the Flyers), that would be terrific,” said Hitchcock.

“You don’t look at one year, you look at a coaches’ body of work…I love building teams—this is a terrific opportunity for all of us.”

There’s nowhere to go but up for the Blue Jackets, who equaled a club-record, eight consecutive losses following Friday’s game.

“They’ve got a great spirit…when I looked at the tape (of previous games) they were all over the map, but (the Blue Jackets) had spirit, and they showed it again tonight.”

The Cheshire Cat appeared once more as Hitchcock, in his excitement to fawn all over his new club, may have inadvertently provided some insight into the foibles of his former Flyers’ squad.

“The players want to learn here, the enthusiasm in the locker room is…incredible.”

A Freudian slip had Hitchcock catching himself before completely saying the word, “refreshing,” and instead chose “incredible” to describe the Columbus dressing room.

To top-off Hitchcock’s first, post-game conference with Columbus, one Philadelphia media member had the ignominy of asking him if there was a spot in his heart that was happy to see the Flyers end their own losing streak.

A puzzled Hitchcock retorted, “You’ve got to be kidding, right?”

Hitchcock hopes to end the Blue Jackets’ losing streak Saturday night when the Minnesota Wild visit the Nationwide Arena, in his home debut as head coach.

David Unkle can be reached at: topcatsports@canoemail.com


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