Even as far back as when he coached midget hockey in Sherwood Park, Ken Hitchcock's teams always made the playoffs. Now he's in Columbus.

TERRY JONES, EDMONTON SUN

, Last Updated: 11:14 AM ET

Ken Hitchcock has never missed the playoffs before. Not once.

Not even back when he started out, coaching midget in Sherwood Park. Not in junior. Not in the minors. Not in the NHL.

"When I coached a full season? Never. I don't know what it feels like,'' said the man fired by the Philadelphia Flyers who shocked the coaching world by then taking over the worst team in the NHL.

"Never. And I don't ever want to go through that,'' added the man who coached the Dallas Stars to a Stanley Cup but comes to town behind the bench of the Columbus Blue Jackets to play the Edmonton Oilers tonight sitting 30th overall in the NHL.

Hitchcock was on his cellphone on the team bus heading back from a morning skate at the Saddledome prior to last night's game with the Flames.

The question was why he'd suddenly become Wild Ken Hitchcock, crazy coach who was being paid a full salary by Philadelphia not to coach and jumped at the first offer out there to take over a team as unlikely to succeed as the Columbus Blue Jackets.

I mean, why not wait? Sooner or later a team with at least a snowball's hope in Phoenix might become available.

Hitchcock laughs. He used to sneak in the back door of the Northlands Coliseum to watch Wayne Gretzky play. Now he's trying to catch coach Gretzky in the standings.

"Got 'em in our crosshairs,'' he chortled.

Hitchcock says he's not even talking about the playoffs with his team.

"I don't even think our focus is there right now. That's too big a picture. What we're looking for is a marked improvement.''

And he thinks he's going to be getting that from this team to the point where they may wake up one morning later in the season and start thinking playoffs.

But first things first.

Still, why would a winner like Hitchcock take a loser job in Columbus?

It's all in how you see yourself and being in the coaching profession he says.

"When you make the decision to be a coach, you have to make the decision if you are becoming a coach because you want to win all the time or because you want to coach.

"If you're coaching just because you want to win and not because you want to coach ...''

Well, you don't take over teams like Columbus.

"Part of the satisfaction of coaching is to take a team and ride out the bumps and be part of it becoming a success.''

There's a theory that Hitchcock took the first job offered to him because he's a coach-aholic.

But Hitch disagrees.

"It's not the coaching. It's the commitment to a team. To be part of something. To not be committed to a team is a very difficult time to go through. You're kind of on an island.''

Hitch, who was once island-sized himself, says he's gone from that to the complete opposite overnight.

"It's all hockey 24 hours a day.

"I haven't spent more than two days in Columbus so far. But right now that's good. It's all-out hockey.

"For me, it's been terrific. The guys here have been more than receptive to what we're trying to do here. There's a sense of urgency to get better quick here.

"I'm getting great support from the veteran leadership.''

Still, in a way, Hitchcock is surprised he took the job.

"When I went into the interviews, I wasn't really sure. The thing that impressed me was that the people on the hockey staff were harder on themselves than anybody else - harder on themselves than what I would have been.

"And watching the team I was impressed by their fighting spirit. I kept seeing it.

"It feels a lot like Dallas when I took over with Bob Gainey there.''

You don't suppose there will be a whole lot of Edmonton-Columbus playoff series ahead of us like there were with the Stars?


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