by John Carlisle, bluejackets.com
Ken Hitchcock will pick up his NHL coaching career right where he left off–literally.
The Hitchcock era of Columbus Blue Jackets hockey begins Friday in Philadelphia against the Flyers, who employed him for the first eight games of the season before letting him go after a slow start.
The new head coach’s first order of business is to stop Columbus’ seven-game losing skid. The Jackets (5-13-2) narrowly lost to the St. Louis Blues Wednesday in a sudden-death shootout but still salvaged a standings point from the overtime loss. The CBJ now skates into Philadelphia (5-14-3) for a 1 p.m. matinee match-up at the Wachovia Center. With new direction, new leadership and renewed purpose, the Jackets are hoping for much different results than they have seen lately.
In his head coaching career, Hitchcock, who becomes Columbus’ fourth head coach, has posted a 408-227-122 record spanning nearly ten seasons with two teams: the Dallas Stars, whom he led to a Stanley Cup title in 1999; and the Flyers, whom he led to 40-win seasons in each of his three years there. He has guided teams to the postseason seven times, collecting a 66-51 lifetime postseason record.
Hitchcock brings a reputation for no-nonsense intensity and toughness to the CBJ dressing room.
“He has won the Cup,” Jackets defenseman Rostislav Klesla said. “He’s won a lot of games, so he knows how to do it. We’ve got to work with him to try to catch up and move up in the standings.”
One of Hitchcock’s objectives, no doubt, will be to encourage the Jackets to play team hockey. They showed flashes of it Wednesday as David Vyborny fed Nikolai Zherdev for a nifty first-period goal. Klesla logged a power-play goal in the second period after good team execution with the one-man advantage. Finally, Fredrik Modin benefited from hard work around the crease. The puck deflected off his chest and into the net for a third period goal, his fifth of the year.
Gary Agnew, whose interim as head coach saw him go 0-4-1 with the Blue Jackets, said that as a “company man,” he will return to his assistant coach role, one he occupied from the season’s beginning until the dismissal of former coach Gerard Gallant Nov. 13.
“Whenever you get a chance to work with successful people, be it in coaching or the business industry or any industry, you can certainly learn from them,” Agnew said. “I’m really excited about having the chance to work with him, but I want to make sure I’m giving him the stuff he needs and helping him with whatever he wants me to do.”
The Flyers find themselves in a position similar to the Blue Jackets. After parting ways with Hitchcock, Philadelphia has gone 4-10-1 under its interim head coach John Stevens. Their 2-6-3 record at the Wachovia Center shows they have had difficulty protecting their home ice.
In the spirit of new beginnings, the CBJ will strive for their first win ever against the Flyers, going 0-3-3 lifetime. Live coverage on FSN Ohio begins with IceBreaker, the pre-game show, at 12:30 p.m. and includes the Blue Jackets Ice Cap post-game show immediately following the game.