Players have heard of coach’s intensity, attention to detail
Thursday, November 23, 2006
THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH
Nobody in the Blue Jackets’ dressing room has played in the NHL under coach Ken Hitchcock. But they’ve all heard stories.
Hitchcock, hired by the Blue Jackets yesterday, is legendary for his demanding style behind the bench, his my-way-or-thehighway approach, and, of course, his winning ways.
The Blue Jackets will practice for Hitchcock for the first time this morning and play their first game under him Friday in Philadelphia.
Brace yourselves, boys.
"I’m sure some guys are nervous," Blue Jackets left winger Rick Nash said. "But I’m sure more guys will be excited than nervous.
"We need a change here, and I don’t think there’s a better guy than him to come here and make it happen."
Simply put, Hitchcock was hired to change the culture in the Blue Jackets’ dressing room, home to the worst record in the NHL since they joined in 2000 as an expansion franchise.
That shouldn’t be a problem, said former Flyers captain Keith Primeau, who retired last season after playing two-plus season under Hitchcock.
"It’ll be a culture shock to the players there," Primeau said. "He’s a very demanding coach. He expects perfection, and he doesn’t rest until he gets perfection.
"He’s very intense. Playing under Hitch reminded me of what it took to win. There’s a whole different level and an intensity that has to be there in practices if it’s going to be there in games."
Blue Jackets goaltending coach Clint Malarchuk was asked for one word to describe Hitchcock, a friend since childhood.
"Obsessed," Malarchuk said. "He’s a 24-7 kind of guy. He’s all about attention to detail."
The Blue Jackets say they’re ready.
"(Hitchcock) is definitely fair," said captain Adam Foote, who played under Hitchcock for Team Canada in the 2002 Olympic Games. "He’s what it’s supposed to be about, which is accountability.
"We need to learn how to do little things right and how to win hockey games."
Most of the Blue Jackets players weren’t told of Hitchcock’s hiring until after the 4-3 shootout loss to St. Louis last night.
Interim coach Gary Agnew had the TVs turned off in the dressing room area so the players could focus on snapping out of a prolonged losing streak.
Thus the dressing room had an odd vibe after the game. The players were absorbing a loss and the hiring of a new coach simultaneously.
"If you’re going to make a coaching (change)," left winger Jason Chimera said, "then you want it to be one of the guys who’s been known to win a lot in the NHL.
"The young guys will learn a lot from him, I’m sure. So will the older guys."
In eight-plus seasons, players have groused about Hitchcock’s philosophy. He preaches defense first, with a firm belief that winning hockey is rooted in a team’s ability to check, to win battles along the board and wear down opponents.
The most notable complainer was right winger Brett Hull, who scored 741 goals but never played a lick of defense until he played under Hitchcock in Dallas for three years, beginning with the Stanley Cup season (1998-99).
Hull and Hitchcock went back and forth, but Hitchcock — who never played in the NHL — had no trouble showing Hull who was boss.
"I am the last guy who puts (Hull) on the ice," Hitchcock once said, "so he either plays my way or he doesn’t go on the ice. And he knows that."
Hull and Hitchcock still disagree on Hitchcock’s style, which Hull calls boring.
But Hull has admitted: "I was a better player because of Ken Hitchcock."