EDMONTON, Alberta — Ken Hitchcock just can’t get enough.
The 66-year-old is now behind the bench for his fifth different NHL team, and his sixth different head coaching job.
Hitchcock is currently third on the NHL’s all-time wins list behind Scotty Bowman and Joel Quenneville.
I caught up with Hitchcock Friday as we discussed coaching a superstar, the 2003-04 Flyers, new Flyers assistant Rick Wilson and his admiration for Andy Reid.
JB: "Have the Oilers and your previous teams responded because of a different voice in the room?"
KH: “No, I don’t think that’s right necessarily. I’ve learned over time that the pregame prep — and I’ve said this to people — the pregame preparation is one of the most overrated things in our sport. Because you’re saying the same things over and over again. But postgame preparation is not. It’s really important. And how you move the train along the tracks is all in your postgame review. I’ve learned that critical stuff back when I was in Dallas and in Philly. Everything you do on non-game days matters.”
JB: "Do you have a lighter side after all these years?"
KH: “I don’t believe there’s a lighter side, but I’ve learned over time in generations. When I first started in this game, you told players what to do and that was it. Then you got to what and how to do it. And that became relevant. And now it’s what, how and why, and what’s in it for them. And you better be prepared to go the distance in explaining all of those in detail or you’re not going to get a buy-in."
JB: "Do you know when players are tuning you out?"
KH: “My job is to get players to do things that are really uncomfortable, and find value in that. When you get to a team that does it, but does it [inconsistently], you know that it’s hard. Your job is to get them through the wall and out the other side. That’s very difficult to do.
"The feel you have as a coach is, when it’s inconsistent, you know that there is some resistance in the room. That’s when you need the general manager [to have your back]. When they do it, and they don’t do it. And they do it, and they don’t do it. The feel that you have is, somebody or something is stopping them.”
JB: "Which teams did you coach that were ready to listen?"
KH: “Sometimes teams are in the position where they’re ready to listen. That happened to me in Philadelphia, and we just took right off. The year we lost in the conference finals, we had the best team by a mile. If we stay healthy, there’s nobody that touches us. We win a Cup. I’m dying on that vine with that one, because I knew how good we were.”
JB: "Why aren't you on a beach in Florida?"
KH: “I just had coffee with Rick Wilson (Flyers assistant) and we both said, ‘Are we friggin’ nuts?’ We were the mayors of the coffee club. I got to tell you. Both of us miss one thing and that’s the thing that drives us, and that is we both love having a stake in the game. Whether it’s a coach or as a consultant or whatever, we love having a stake in the game.
"That’s the fuel that is our fire. I can’t watch hockey as a fan. When I was watching a game when I wasn’t coaching, I’d watch until I had the information, then I’d turn the TV off and watch the History Channel. But I needed that stake. That’s the same as Rick. That’s the fuel that fires us up. I’ve had long talks with Tony LaRussa. I’ve had long talks with Andy [Reid] about this stuff. That’s why we don’t want to get out.”
JB: "You mentioned Andy Reid. Is there a coach you truly admire?"
KH: “I like the way Andy does business. I like the way Andy does it. I like the way he runs his operation. I like the way Tony did it. There’s a group of us. I really admire the way [Mike] Babcock does it. I really admire the way Mike does things. He’s not afraid to go into the tough areas with emotions with the players, and I like the way he does business.”
Hitchock on coaching Connor McDavid: “The thing that’s unique to him is that he’s a fearless, reckless player. He’s a tremendous athlete, a tremendous player but he’s fearless — willing to pay any price to score a goal, to attack. He goes into places that make me nervous just being on the bench. Absolutely reckless and fearless, in order to get into scoring areas.”
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