Hitch: NHL's Best Coach?

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    davetherave
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    Hitch: NHL's Best Coach?

    Post by davetherave on Wed Feb 18, 2009 9:27 am

    With five coaches having been fired so far this year, and at least one more supposedly on the brink, there's a lot of talk about the importance of coaching. There's also been a lot of opinions expressed about who's a good coach and who's not.

    The fact is, there are only 30 jobs at the top in professional hockey, and as Cory Clouston said today, getting your chance usually means someone has to lose their job. Often, a new coach steps into a deteriorating situation and has to turn it around. Or that coach may be handed the reins to a team with expectations that exceed the ability or committment of the players to win. In any case, NHL coaches rarely have a long leash.

    Ken Hitchc0ck is regarded by more than a few (including Clouston) as one of the NHL's best. In his 14th year as a head coach, Hitch has won a Stanley Cup, taken his teams to the Cup Finals a total of three times and the Conference Final a total of five times.

    He also coached Team Canada to the silver medal at the 2008 IIHF World Championship last year when the team included Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley.

    As coach of the Columbus Blue Jackets, he has taken that talent and made it competitive, the Jackets looking good to make the playoffs for the first time, beating powerhouses like the Wings and the Sharks along the way this season through sheer hard work and Hitch's strategy.

    Hitch has seen the lowpoints as well as the high points. His clubs have also missed three times and he has been fired twice.

    He is not a 'player's coach'--Hitch is tough. As Mike Eastwood once said, it's 'his way or the highway'.

    So what makes Hitch one of the best? I've posted a profile from the Columbus Dispatch by Aaron Portzline, of the better beat writers out there. IMHO it provides some gives some fascinating insight into how tough this job really is...and why it takes the right blend of dedication, toughness and insight to be successful.

    Blue Jackets: Why is Hitchc0ck one of the best? Details, details
    Tough approach angers players, yet they grow to appreciate it
    Wednesday, February 18, 2009 3:22 AM Aaron Portzline, Columbus Dispatch


    Nationwide Arena is dark and quiet when Blue Jackets coach Ken Hitchc0ck arrives each morning around 6, a newspaper in one hand and a coffee in the other. He doesn't go straight to his office. That can wait. He heads for the arena's empty lower bowl.


    "I love the solitude of the rink in the early morning," Hitchc0ck said. "I can think when it's that quiet I sit there and soak it all up while I'm getting ready for the day to get rolling. You can feel the building and all the stories it has to tell, almost like it's alive.

    "To me, it's a beautiful place to be, especially when they have the curtains pulled back from the upstairs windows and the sun comes shining in on the ice."
    There is no aspect of hockey -- the rink, the players, the puck, the history of the game -- that Hitchc0ck doesn't discuss with a touch of reverence in his voice. And so he is humbled, almost apologetic, as he nears a milestone that will put him in the same conversation with the NHL's legendary coaches.

    Hitch is two wins shy of 500 in his NHL career, a number only 12 other coaches have achieved. With a win tonight when the Blue Jackets play host to St. Louis, he could reach the mark when the Blue Jackets play in Toronto on Thursday.

    "How many people come to work every day and don't feel like they have a job?" Hitchc0ck said. "That's how I feel about my job. It's a lot of stress and pressure, but it doesn't feel like work to me.

    "I could never repay the game for all it's given me. It's given me a great life, great friends, wonderful memories, unbelievable travel. And more than all that, it's given me a sense of belonging every day. A sense of belonging to something that's much bigger than you are -- your team, your city, the great fans."

    By 8 a.m., Nationwide Arena has sprung to life, and Hitch is in his office. This is where the final preparation is done, where the daily practice schedule and next-game strategy is refined. It's where he goes over in his mind what he's going to say to his players, what message he'll send out to the media and -- always -- how he's going to get the most out of the Blue Jackets.

    Dressing room dynamic


    There are days when Blue Jackets players can't stand Hitchc0ck. That might sound harsh, but it's probably too kind. He's one of the most demanding coaches in the NHL, perhaps in all of sports. The ebullient Hitchc0ck who deals with the media and shakes hands around the Arena District is not the man who steps in front of the players when the dressing room doors are closed.

    "When I heard Hitch got the job in Columbus, I just had to chuckle," said Dallas Stars defenseman Darryl Sydor, who has known Wang for more than 20 years and won a Stanley Cup under him with Dallas in 1999. Sydor played for the Blue Jackets in the 2003-04 season, two seasons before Hitchc0ck arrived.

    "I had to chuckle because I knew the honeymoon was over in Columbus. Everything was going to change, in a dramatic and really positive way. And it was going to be intense."

    Hitchc0ck's life is centered on hockey, and he expects the sport to be just as important to his players and assistant coaches. He spends hours each day breaking down video, and when the team gets together to watch the "correctable issues," it can be a tough talk for some of the players to digest.

    Hitch doesn't mince words. His tone includes no sugar. There is a way to play hockey -- Hitchc0ck hockey -- and nothing else is acceptable.

    The Blue Jackets, with a mix of veterans and young players, are still learning to navigate with his direction. When Hitchc0ck leaves the room, it's not uncommon for a handful of veterans -- captain Rick Nash, Michael Peca, Fredrik Modin, Mike Commodore, Manny Malhotra -- to pull the young players aside and help them "interpret" the coach's criticism.

    The assistant coaches -- Gary Agnew, Claude Noel and Gord Murphy -- often play good cop to Hitchc0ck's bad cop.

    "Hitch is who he is," Peca said. "He's not going to change. His qualities are something a lot of people talk about and a lot of people respect.

    "When it comes to those days when we're going through a grind and he's being tough on the players, that's when the players pull together."

    Most of Hitchc0ck's former players felt the same way but say the current Blue Jackets players can't possibly see the endgame. They can't see where this is going.

    "Hitch creates a hatred of him that brings the players together," longtime Dallas center Mike Modano said. "It's not a personal hatred, but you get frustrated with how he approaches things. That's how he operated. Nobody was off-limits, nothing was allowed to slip, and no corners were ever allowed to be cut. And I mean ever. You could win eight games in a row and he'd talk to you like you were in last place.

    "Ultimately it brought guys together closer in the dressing room. And when you're gone -- away from him -- you realize you're thankful for him being that way. Because it works."

    Beneath it all, respect

    Hitchc0ck knows how he is perceived. He knows that current players might not truly appreciate his coaching until they, or he, has moved on.

    But, like all the video he breaks down, Hitchc0ck sees it from a different perspective.

    Asked how his players feel about him, he thought for a few seconds.

    "I would hope they feel prepared," Hitchc0ck said. "I know they feel like I'm demanding, and relentless in the demanding. I know that. I get it.

    "I don't expect players when they play for me to understand it, either. Most don't. I think over time they do. Some of the closest friends I have are guys who used to play for me."

    Blue Jackets general manager Scott Howson described Hitchc0ck as "the most passionate person about hockey I've ever met." And Howson, a longtime employee of the Edmonton Oilers, has met some of the NHL's all-time greats, including Wayne Gretzky.

    "(Former NFL general manager) Ernie Accorsi once said that coaching is getting players to do what they don't want to do, so they can be what they want to be," Howson said. "And that's Hitch."

    By eating, sleeping and drinking hockey, Hitchc0ck is able to provide players with a comprehensive preview of every opponent. That's his goal, anyway.

    "If I'm surprised by something the other team does, I feel like I've cheated my team," he said. "My No. 1 job is to make sure our team is prepared.

    "The minute I don't have the passion to pore over all the things I need to pore over, that's probably the day I'll get out of coaching."

    Still going strong

    Hitchc0ck said he turned down two coaching jobs between the time he was fired by the Philadelphia Flyers on Nov. 1, 2006, and when he was hired by the Blue Jackets three weeks later. He would not reveal the clubs.

    Why Columbus?
    "The attraction for me was it was the ground floor," Hitchc0ck said. "I just felt like this city, this rink, this organization had a lot of potential.

    "A lot of the attraction for me was Rick (Nash), having worked with him in the Olympics. And the stories I got from (late owner) John H. McConnell were pretty legendary. I wanted to be a part of it, and I'm truly honored to be here."

    In that sense, Hitchc0ck said, achieving 500 wins feels more like a springboard than a milestone. It wasn't until early this month, when Howson pulled him aside, that Wang realized he was closing in on 500.

    "We're just getting started now in Columbus, just getting revved up," Hitchc0ck said. "We're just starting to put things into place, this foundation that will be here for the next six or seven years.

    "I still have a ton of energy. I don't feel even close to slowing down now."

    ----

    So what, in your opinion, makes a great coach?

    Who are some of the coaches you respect, and why?

    Who are the coaches you don't respect, and why?

    What do you think of the coaches the Sens have had?

    How does Cory Clouston compare to the NHL's best?

    Who, in your opinion, would be the best coach for the Sens, and why?

    Looking forward to your comments...
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    Re: Hitch: NHL's Best Coach?

    Post by PKC on Wed Feb 18, 2009 10:06 am

    Well I think more than just being a good tactics or x's and o's guy, coaches have to be sports psychologists, personal psychologists, sometimes a friend, sometimes an enemy and always a role model.

    A great coach is someone who can come down on his guys extremely hard but not hear a smattering in the background because he has their respect.

    I tend to respect all coaches to be honest. It's a fairly hard profession, and although they are compensated fairly well most of the time, they still have to answer a lot of questions and meet (sometimes too high) expectations.

    With regards to the coaches the Sens have had (I'll use Paddock and Hartsburg as examples) I think those guys have had certain aspects of what makes a coach a guy you'll listen to and learn from. But they didn't have all of the attributes. They might have had the experience of being around hockey for a major portion of their lives, but they didn't have the experience of handling so many different personalities.

    I think Clouston has succeeded so far because players realize they need to put it together and stop underachieving and partly because Clouston has installed a system that just simply works for this group. And you can see it in the results. These guys have been skating harder, forechecking harder, backchecking, cycling plays around the boards, creating scoring chances, etc... That's all part of the system and part of the players being students of the game. So, for now, Clouston has certainly succeeded, because he is managing to do, thus far, what the other two coaches before him were unable to do with the same talent, essentially -- I know Paddock and Hartsburg had different rosters.

    I don't know if there is necessarily a 'best coach' for the Sens. It's hard to quantify a position like a coach's by saying he'd be the best fit, because it's hard to say how the players or the coach would react to the other. Some people say that Pat Burns would be a great choice, but it might not have as much to do with his ability to inherit this squad and transform them into an incredible unit as it would be his experience would certainly precede him and earn him at the very least, a few weeks of being heard out.

    Conversely, guys like John Tortorella -- even though he coached a Stanley Cup champion -- might not be a good fit with the team. Possibly because his abrasive style might not cohere to the personalities of the players on the roster. So, it's always hard to say with any certainty that this coach or that coach might be the best, because until you hire them and see the results, there's just no way of knowing.

    By the way Dave, I quite enjoy your write-ups. Well thought out, well-sourced and well-formatted. Very enjoyable to read. Thanks for putting in the time to make this site a bit better for everyone else. Cheers.

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    Re: Hitch: NHL's Best Coach?

    Post by Guest on Wed Feb 18, 2009 3:23 pm

    Yes. :D

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    Re: Hitch: NHL's Best Coach?

    Post by Guest on Wed Feb 18, 2009 4:30 pm

    Tukker wrote:Yes. :D

    I'm going to ask one more time, politely, for you to change that creepy avatar. Non-compliance means I get hostile! It's just wrong on so many levels.

    Oh, btw, I think Peter DeBoer is winning the Jack Adams this year.
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    Re: Hitch: NHL's Best Coach?

    Post by davetherave on Wed Feb 18, 2009 4:32 pm

    PKC, Tukker, Hem, thanks...hope we can get some more folks to jump in to this discussion!

    8)


    Last edited by davetherave on Wed Feb 18, 2009 4:33 pm; edited 1 time in total (Reason for editing : edit)

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    Re: Hitch: NHL's Best Coach?

    Post by Guest on Wed Feb 18, 2009 4:35 pm

    hemlock wrote:
    Tukker wrote:Yes. :D

    I'm going to ask one more time, politely, for you to change that creepy avatar. Non-compliance means I get hostile! It's just wrong on so many levels.

    Oh, btw, I think Peter DeBoer is winning the Jack Adams this year.
    I'm not changing it. I'd say something about yours, but i dont know what it is Suspect

    Anyways, I think the best coach in the NHL is a race between Lemair, hitchcokc, Trotz, and Boudreau.

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    Re: Hitch: NHL's Best Coach?

    Post by Guest on Wed Feb 18, 2009 4:47 pm

    Tukker wrote:
    hemlock wrote:
    Tukker wrote:Yes. :D

    I'm going to ask one more time, politely, for you to change that creepy avatar. Non-compliance means I get hostile! It's just wrong on so many levels.

    Oh, btw, I think Peter DeBoer is winning the Jack Adams this year.
    I'm not changing it. I'd say something about yours, but i dont know what it is Suspect

    Anyways, I think the best coach in the NHL is a race between Lemair, hitchcokc, Trotz, and Boudreau.

    I blocked it. Adblock Plus > your avatar.

    Aren't you forgetting Claude Julien?

    My avatar is Sam Harris....use the google machine if you must. Then go out and read the End of Faith. It's essential reading.

    EDIT: Mitch Hedberg is AWESOME....too bad he OD'd. He gets alot of play on the XM comedy channels (which are imo worth the price of XM alone).
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    Re: Hitch: NHL's Best Coach?

    Post by davetherave on Wed Feb 18, 2009 4:56 pm

    Hem, Claude Julien is certainly an excellent coach. Doesn't have Hitch's track record yet though.

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    Re: Hitch: NHL's Best Coach?

    Post by Guest on Wed Feb 18, 2009 4:59 pm

    davetherave wrote:Hem, Claude Julien is certainly an excellent coach. Doesn't have Hitch's track record yet though.

    No he doesn't but he's gotten a raw deal. Remember him getting fired late in the year a few years ago by Lou in NJ?

    Is that avatar really necessary? It taunts us Sens fans... :lol!:
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    Re: Hitch: NHL's Best Coach?

    Post by davetherave on Wed Feb 18, 2009 5:09 pm

    hemlock wrote:
    davetherave wrote:Hem, Claude Julien is certainly an excellent coach. Doesn't have Hitch's track record yet though.

    No he doesn't but he's gotten a raw deal. Remember him getting fired late in the year a few years ago by Lou in NJ?

    Is that avatar really necessary? It taunts us Sens fans... :lol!:

    Hem, I agree...not sure what happened to Claude in NJ...but hockey karma prevailed.

    Marty Havlat...are you guys still pining for him? :lol!:

    No taunting intended...Mr Havlat is just playing his tail off...happy for him.

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    Re: Hitch: NHL's Best Coach?

    Post by Guest on Wed Feb 18, 2009 5:26 pm

    hemlock wrote:
    Tukker wrote:
    hemlock wrote:
    Tukker wrote:Yes. :D

    I'm going to ask one more time, politely, for you to change that creepy avatar. Non-compliance means I get hostile! It's just wrong on so many levels.

    Oh, btw, I think Peter DeBoer is winning the Jack Adams this year.
    I'm not changing it. I'd say something about yours, but i dont know what it is Suspect

    Anyways, I think the best coach in the NHL is a race between Lemair, hitchcokc, Trotz, and Boudreau.

    I blocked it. Adblock Plus > your avatar.

    Aren't you forgetting Claude Julien?

    My avatar is Sam Harris....use the google machine if you must. Then go out and read the End of Faith. It's essential reading.

    EDIT: Mitch Hedberg is AWESOME....too bad he OD'd. He gets alot of play on the XM comedy channels (which are imo worth the price of XM alone).
    I wiki'd Sam Harris, and I will not be reading any of his books I'm afraid.

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    Re: Hitch: NHL's Best Coach?

    Post by Guest on Wed Feb 18, 2009 9:33 pm

    Tukker wrote:
    hemlock wrote:
    Tukker wrote:
    hemlock wrote:
    Tukker wrote:Yes. :D

    I'm going to ask one more time, politely, for you to change that creepy avatar. Non-compliance means I get hostile! It's just wrong on so many levels.

    Oh, btw, I think Peter DeBoer is winning the Jack Adams this year.
    I'm not changing it. I'd say something about yours, but i dont know what it is Suspect

    Anyways, I think the best coach in the NHL is a race between Lemair, hitchcokc, Trotz, and Boudreau.

    I blocked it. Adblock Plus > your avatar.

    Aren't you forgetting Claude Julien?

    My avatar is Sam Harris....use the google machine if you must. Then go out and read the End of Faith. It's essential reading.

    EDIT: Mitch Hedberg is AWESOME....too bad he OD'd. He gets alot of play on the XM comedy channels (which are imo worth the price of XM alone).
    I wiki'd Sam Harris, and I will not be reading any of his books I'm afraid.

    Spoken like a devoted religious person Wink

    In all seriousness though, he makes some pretty compelling arguments against religion (specifically Islam) in that book. Like I said, it's essential reading for the religious and non-religious alike, whether you agree with his views or not.

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    Re: Hitch: NHL's Best Coach?

    Post by Guest on Wed Feb 18, 2009 9:49 pm

    I wouldnt say Im a "devoted religious person", but I've had some hard times in my life, and I found that I could always find support in the church. After my wife died, leaving me as a 20 year old with a 4 month old child, no job, and living in a foreign country. If it werent for my faith and my child, I wouldn't be here today.

    frankly, when I look around, i can't help but feel there's something more. Nothing will ever convince me that it all ends in a slow ride in a hearse.

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    Re: Hitch: NHL's Best Coach?

    Post by Guest on Wed Feb 18, 2009 9:57 pm

    Tukker wrote:I wouldnt say Im a "devoted religious person", but I've had some hard times in my life, and I found that I could always find support in the church. After my wife died, leaving me as a 20 year old with a 4 month old child, no job, and living in a foreign country. If it werent for my faith and my child, I wouldn't be here today.

    frankly, when I look around, i can't help but feel there's something more. Nothing will ever convince me that it all ends in a slow ride in a hearse.

    I was just teasing Tukker. It's good that the church was able to provide you with strength. I'm not looking to shake your faith at all. I'm an athiest (obviously), but I would like to think that I am not the type to cram it down someone's throat. Certainly not on an internet forum anyway Wink

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    Re: Hitch: NHL's Best Coach?

    Post by Guest on Wed Feb 18, 2009 10:02 pm

    hemlock wrote:
    Tukker wrote:I wouldnt say Im a "devoted religious person", but I've had some hard times in my life, and I found that I could always find support in the church. After my wife died, leaving me as a 20 year old with a 4 month old child, no job, and living in a foreign country. If it werent for my faith and my child, I wouldn't be here today.

    frankly, when I look around, i can't help but feel there's something more. Nothing will ever convince me that it all ends in a slow ride in a hearse.

    I was just teasing Tukker. It's good that the church was able to provide you with strength. I'm not looking to shake your faith at all. I'm an athiest (obviously), but I would like to think that I am not the type to cram it down someone's throat. Certainly not on an internet forum anyway Wink
    I'd like to think I'm the same way. like the overly religious annoy me too. Going to church makes you christian like going in a garage makes you a car.

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