Hawks Insider

Q&A with Blackhawks interim head coach Derek King

/ by Charlie Roumeliotis
Presented By Nationwide Insurance Agent Jeff Vukovich
Hawks Insider
Derek King

After relieving head coach Jeremy Colliton of his duties, the Blackhawks promoted Derek King, who previous served as the head coach of the Rockford IceHogs, to interim coach moving forward.

On Sunday after morning skate, King sat down with NBC Sports Chicago to discuss the move, his coaching philosophy, his emotions going into his first NHL game as a head coach, and much more.

Here is the full transcript from the Q&A, which has been lightly edited for brevity and clarity: 

Blackhawks' interim head coach Derek King trying to make hockey fun again

Derek, just walk us through the last 24 hours of getting the call and then preparing for morning skate and then going into your first NHL game as a head coach.

Yeah, it's been crazy. When I got the call, I almost fell out of my chair. I called the wife, she was a little emotional, and then since that my phone's been on fire. It's been ringing, text messages, phone messages, I've been on the phone with people. Even my kids, their friends are texting them. It's just been crazy, but a good crazy.

Is it weird for you, stepping into this for Jeremy? I know you built a relationship with him in Rockford and I'm sure over the last few years as head coach of Rockford.

Yeah, you never want to see this. He's a friend. If anything, it's not we coached with each other, he was the head there and I was the head in Rockford, it was just we were friends. And we had a good relationship, so I feel [for him]. He understands, though. I had a good conversation with him yesterday. It's part of the business, we all get that. This is what we signed up for. And then I'll just move forward.

 

You mentioned in your press conference that the team is playing tight. You want them to play relaxed. How do you get them to do that?

Well that's going to be the challenge. It's a sensitive group. It's just a shift at a time. I'm going to have to be in their ear on the bench like, it's OK, we make a mistake let's end it after that. And I've said that over the last 24 hours that you make a mistake, that's fine. I can live with that as long as that's a good mistake and you're working hard. It's what happens after that mistake, that's when we have to end it. That's it. One mistake and that's it. And hopefully that's how it's going to go the first period.

Is it tough that you're coming into such a mentally fragile group right now and you don't want to put too much pressure to change it right away? That it might be a gradual process.

Yeah, there's no point in coming in here and putting my chest out and dictating this is how we're going to change the way we ... it's not rocket science. You probably heard that before about this game. The big thing is the accountability. Let's be accountable for each other, let's play as a team, and let's have some fun. This is the game we've played since we were so young and it was fun back then, so why can't it be fun?

You said you have an open-door policy. That's something that you believe in. What is your overall coaching philosophy? 

I've been asked that so many times. I just try to manage the players and manage the game. Going into this, I get a feel for it. Some nights I'll be rah-rah-rah, and there will be other nights where I don't need to be that. I'll let the guys do it. And I'll just get a feel for that.

How much is having success as a coach X's and O's vs. just trying to let the guys play their game and feel comfortable playing that game?

I think there's a happy medium. I think you can mix it. I'm a big believer in just letting them play. And if there are mistakes, we'll correct them as coaches through video, through talking on the boards, but you've got to let these guys play and just go out and do what they do best.

You obviously have a relationship with some of the Rockford players, so I'm sure it's nice coming into this locker room with some established relationships. How difficult is it going to be, and the importance of building that trust with the veterans in this locker room?

 

Well it's huge. Those are the guys that are going to help you. And I've got to get their trust, and hopefully when I get their trust, they're going to trust me. They're going to get to know me. I mean, they've seen me around the rink, whether it's after a game or during training camps, but to sit and have a skate with them and really talk to them, I'm just going to have to build that relationship.

Have you gotten a chance to talk with Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews and maybe get their opinions on what this team needs moving forward?

I had a good conversation with our leadership and just told them my door's open. I'm here to help you guys get to where you want to be and where we should be. I told them we will chat more about systems and get feedback from them what they're looking or what they see and then we'll move from there.

So structurally, you don't plan on changing anything at the current moment?

No, it's tough. You can't just come in here and just start drawing up different X's and O's. We've just got to, like I said, we're going to make mistakes, we'll see those mistakes on video after the game and then we'll decide when the right time is to make some structural moves.

So you don't have any, 'I want to play this way in the defensive zone,' it's more of just letting the guys dictate feel what is best?

Well I have some thoughts on how I think we can play.

Care to share?

I think we can be a little more structured in the D zone. I think they're chasing a little bit too much. Neutral zone, it seems alright, but again after the game, I'll maybe see some of those flaws where I think maybe we need to tweak the neutral zone. Offensively is the fun zome. Once you get the puck down there, if it was me I'd be putting the puck in that area all the time and going to get it, and go have some fun, but I think the big thing with this team is a little structure in the D zone.

For you personally, how are you treating this stretch? Is this a tryout for you?

You know, when you get called upon by the organization that they would love for me to come here and help, you can't say no. This is my job. I'm here to help the team, whether it's in the minors helping them build prospects to eventually play for the Hawks or now it's my turn to help these guys. You can't say no and I'm excited about it.

I think a lot of fans that watched the press conference are getting an idea of who you are and your personality. What message do you have to the fanbase? What can they expect out of you?

 

Well, I try not to take myself too serious. I know this is a serious job, it's a serious game, especially at this level there's a lot of money involved, there's a lot of things going on. But I try not to take it too serious. I try to keep calm. I think if the players see that I'm calm and I'm not yelling and screaming or throwing things and being up-tight, they'll see that it's OK to just relax and have some fun.

Last one, you're going into your first NHL game as a head coach. You said you're scared, you're anxious in the press conference -- I love the honesty. How does this compare to your first NHL game?

This is worse. This is worse. My first NHL game I got called up from junior, I was in Montreal at the old Forum and I started the game, the national anthem, and I was nervous, but this, I'm probably more nervous as a coach than I've ever been as a player.

Is it funny that you're feeling these emotions as a grown man?

Yeah, as a grown man. I know. Don't tell anybody. I've got it all under control.

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