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Coaching Canada an honor for Hitchcock

by James Murphy

Columbus head coach Ken Hitchcock is very honored to have the opportunity to represent his country by coaching at the 2008 World Championships taking place in Canada.
Hitchcock/Ruff on the NHL Playoffs   
Ken Hitchcock has accomplished plenty in his coaching career.

Hitchcock led the Dallas Stars to the 1999 Stanley Cup and has posted an NHL coaching record of 470-311-117 with the Columbus Blue Jackets, Philadelphia Flyers and the Stars. Before that, Hitchcock put together a Western Hockey League career that ranks him among the best bench bosses in major junior hockey history. He guided the Kamloops Blazers to two Memorial Cup appearances from 1984-90, compiling a record of 291-115-15 along the way. In addition, the 56-year-old Edmonton native was an associate coach for Canada at the 2002 Olympics, where Canada won gold, and the 1988 gold-medal winning Canadian team at the World Junior Championship.

While he is extremely proud of all of his accomplishments, Hitchcock always has taken great pride and honor in coaching for his country, not just for the sake of national pride, but also for the challenges such a job presents. So, when Team Canada General Manager Steve Yzerman came knocking on his door to offer him his first chance to be a head coach on the international stage, it was a no-brainer for Hitchcock.

“The chance to represent your country at any level or in any capacity is a real honor,” Hitchcock said. “But it’s also a very exciting and invigorating experience because of the challenges it presents. You have to assemble a team in such a short period of time and not only make sure you bring on the best talent, but that you find the right chemistry amongst the players you bring in.

"As we always see in the playoffs, it’s not just about what you have on paper, but how these guys work together as well as grit and hard work. But the teams playing for the Stanley Cup have been together all season and in many instances multiple seasons. In a tournament like the World Championships, you don’t have that in place necessarily and you have to put it there quickly. So it’s challenging, and like I said, an invigorating experience.”

With Canada’s World Championship squad almost always full of NHL players whose teams didn’t qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs or players from teams that have been eliminated, another challenge is for Hitchcock to help the players move on from their recent experience with their respective NHL clubs.

“You have to realize that these guys have either gone through a long, grueling season that didn’t get them to the playoffs or they’re coming off a hard loss in the playoffs,” Hitchcock said. “So you need to help them get their enthusiasm up again, move past a recent loss or the bad taste of a losing season and focus on the task at hand. I just dealt with my team not making the playoffs so I can relate to what they’re going through. Like me, we have to get their arms wrapped around the task at hand.”

One of the keys to accomplishing the aforementioned feats is to assemble a solid coaching staff, and Hitchcock couldn’t be happier with his current staff of Craig MacTavish, Mike Johnston and Pat Burns as associate coaches.

“We’ve got a great staff and having guys like 'Mac T,' Mike and Pat helps a lot in a situation like this because they all have so much experience and bring different attributes to the table,” Hitchcock said. “It’s so great to see Pat back behind the bench and to work with him. I’ve coached against Pat for a long time and grown to know him as a not only a competitive and smart coach, but just a good guy all around."

Canada is the host country for the first time in the history of the World Championships and entered the tournament as heavy favorites to become the first host since the Soviet Union in 1986 to win gold. So far, Canada has dominated with a 5-1 against Slovenia and a 7-0 rout of Latvia, advancing to the qualifying round. Hitchcock couldn’t be more excited to be part of this momentous event and hopes his team can deliver on the lofty expectations.

“This is just really exciting, and as I said before it’s an honor to coach for your country but to do so in Canada is unbelievable,” he said. “The fact that the medal rounds will be in Quebec City, too, is wonderful because it’s such a hockey city. The fans there have always been great and I’m looking forward to that chance to have our team play in front of them.”

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