Hitch reaches a bittersweet milestone

DEREK VAN DIEST, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 11:56 PM ET

COLUMBUS — Ken Hitchcock’s 1,000th game behind an NHL bench proved to be memorable for a couple reasons. Good and bad.

The Columbus Blue Jackets head coach reached the impressive milestone last Wednesday, but had to witness his team suffer a 9-1 beating, a home, to the Detroit Red Wings.

Regardless, Monday prior to their encounter against the Edmonton Oilers, Hitchcock looked back on his career.

“I made the decision in ’84 to go and do it (coach) for a living,” Hitchcock said. “I still don’t know why I made that decision. I was very happy living and working in Edmonton.

“I still don’t know how I got the job in Kamloops because I really didn’t know what I was doing. When I went there I told them I could do everything and it turns out I didn’t know anything about junior hockey. I don’t know how I talked my way into the job. But then once I started to get comfortable, I felt like this was what I wanted to do for a living.”

An Edmonton native, Hitchcock, 57, spent six seasons as head coach of the Kamloops Blazers. He led the team to a pair of WHL championships, never posting a losing season.

From there, Hitchcock joined the Philadelphia Flyers as an assistant coach before landing his first head coaching in job with the Dallas Stars.

Taking over an older lineup, Hitchcock had to be convinced to deviate from the style of play that made him so successful in his time with the Blazers and two, plus seasons in charge of the Stars IHL affiliate.

“I think the key (as a NHL head coach) is the first two years,” he said. “I’m looking at my career and if I don’t get the help from the coaching staff and management in Dallas after the ’96 campaign, I don’t last. Our feeling in Kamloops was that if we spent 80% in the offensive zone, then, who cares what happens in our own zone? We gave up a lot of odd-man rushes, but we spent so much time in the offensive zone it really didn’t matter. We played in this little sandbox that you could play like that. We had four lines and we overwhelmed everybody.

“But we had an older team in Dallas with not a lot of foot speed, but a lot of smarts and we needed to play a more patient game and I was trying to force this system on the players. To me it’s a good lesson for coaches. To me, you can’t force your system on coaches if you can’t play it. Our team was much better playing a more counter-attack system and that’s what played with.”

Eventually Hitchcock was able to lead the Stars to a Stanley Cup title in 1999, then led them to the final the following year where they fell to the New Jersey Devils.

He went on to coach the Philadelphia Flyers before coming to Columbus.

However, he has no aspirations of going into upper management.

“I did scouting for one month and was lost,” Hitchcock said. “I hated that part. I could get a cab back to the hotel, then I couldn’t find a train station. I couldn’t find anything. Then if I was a general manager I would be making a trade every week. I wouldn’t last five minutes doing that stuff.”


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