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For Hitchcock, the lure of teaching begets winning

by Phil Coffey /
As longtime readers of Ice Age know all too well, Ken Hitchcock is one of our favorite coaches. The man has more than a clue or two and has been generous in sharing those clues over the years.

So when Hitchcock participated in a conference call after coaching in his 1,000th NHL regular-season game, Ice Age was beside itself with glee. Think about it for a minute. Hitchcock has now coached over 1,000 regular-season games and won over 500 of them.

That is going to be some collection of hockey knowledge in Vancouver when Hitchcock joins Mike Babcock, Jacques Lemaire and Lindy Ruff to coach Team Canada.

Hitchcock never played in the NHL. He is a career coach and as such credits the late Roger Neilson for his inspiration.

"Roger was an icon for all of us because he was a coach," Hitchcock said. "Everything he did was coaching, from his hockey schools, to baseball camps, to the way he did the coaching symposium. He was the guy that all of us as coaches really admired because we thought of him as 'the coach.'"

The drive to teach is what continues to motivate Hitchcock and was one of the primary reasons why he was intrigued to take over the Columbus Blue Jackets.

"For me, I feel like as long as I'm energized to teach, as long as I don't lose that energy, that fire to teach and build teams, I feel like I can do this at a high level for a long time," he said. "I think if I lose that energy, I'll just knock on the GM's door and probably just leave, you know, because I think the minute you lose the energy to build your team, your days are pretty much numbered."

"I came here knowing exactly what I was getting into," Hitchcock later said. "I never had the challenge in any coaching position I've had, I've never started on the ground floor. I never started with a team that is down-and-out, trying to come back into the upper echelon. I've never had that challenge. It would be the biggest reward I ever had if we went the distance.

"For me, that's why I signed on: to see how far I could take this group. We made huge steps in the last 12 months. But it just seems like the steps get bigger and bigger every day. For me, I have really enjoyed building this team, but I'm also finding out, when you reach a certain level, the next step is the hardest one.

"Getting to become a playoff team was a big step. But the next step to becoming legit night in and night out to me is a bigger challenge. That to me is the one we're going through right now."
Be quiet, now! -- Heading into weekend play, the Ottawa Senators have been averaging a League high 18.8 penalty minutes per game. That's a stat coach Cory Clouston could well do without.

Making matter worse, TSN's Pierre McGuire reported last week that the Senators were guilty of yapping at the officials, which never is a strategy for success.

"If that’s the perception, we have to change that perception," Clouston told Bruce Garrioch of the Ottawa Sun. "If we are perceived (as being mouthy), we have to change that, whether it's true or not. I don't think we do anything different, but if the perception is that, we have to make adjustments.

"If that's our image, we have to turn that around through hard work and just shutting our mouth, maybe to the other extreme. If we are perceived as going one way, we'll go the other way until it eventually turns around.

"We can't feel sorry for ourselves. We have to keep working hard, shut our mouths and, hopefully, eventually it will turn around."

Hats off to Molinari --  Before we go any further, a lift of the lid to Dave Molinari of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for winning the Elmer Ferguson Memorial Award from the Hockey Hall of Fame.

To say Dave is the textbook definition of an ink-stained wretch would be to give ink-stained wretches a bad name.

Molinari is described by the Hall of Fame thusly: "Molinari is described by his colleagues as a survivor whose subtle blend of dry wit, humor and sardonic writing style has captivated readers in Pittsburgh for more than two decades."

And one more thing -- he is my friend.

Congratulations, Dave!

No misunderstanding here --  So, Bob Murray, any thoughts of making a coaching change to get the Anaheim Ducks playing better?

"There's going to be a lot of players going through the turnstiles, going out the door before coaches go out the door here. And our players better get that through their thick skulls," Murray told the Los Angeles Times.

"That stuff about buying into programs and this and that and stuff I'm reading -- you know what, why don't they try playing better first?"

So, no, Randy Carlyle isn't going anyplace.

No problem --  Red Wings coach Mike Babcock is taking a different tack with the injury-riddled Wings these days.

"Psychologically we're fine," Babcock told reporters. "We're a group that's been through a lot, and we understand what it takes to be a winner."

So the focus is on what the players in the lineup can do and not on wringing hands over who is injured.

"We never spend any time talking about players who are out of the lineup, just players who are in," Babcock said. "We're going to be fine."

Well Said I --  "It's nothing. Old age." -- Ottawa's Daniel Alfredsson on why he missed practice Monday.

Can't fool Hitch --  Ken Hitchcock sees the players out of the Red Wings' lineup. He reads the stories that time has passed the Red Wings by. He ain't buying a bit of it.

"I don’t care where they've been or what they've done, and I don't care who's in or who's out," Hitchcock said. "All I know is they wear red and white and they're a pain in our (butt), so let's get playing."

That point was emphasized dramatically Wednesday night when the Wings hung a 9-1 hurtin' on Hitchcock and the Columbus Blue Jackets in Hitch's 1,000th game.

Praise for Niedermayer --  Devils coach Jacques Lemaire coached Scott Niedermayer during his NHL infancy, and even after a number of seasons of being on different sides, Lemaire's admiration for Niedermayer has never yielded.

"He's never in trouble," Lemaire told the (Newark) Star-Ledger. "You know, he's quick -- he'll go up ice, he's quick to get the puck in his own zone; he's quick to get out of trouble. Even if you want to put pressure on him, he will dish the puck, quickly, to someone else, because he's got that vision. You know, he's hard to … the only place he can get in trouble is when he's stopped in front of his net. That's the only place you can control him. Otherwise you can't. And that is because he's stopped."

Yes, Niedermayer's tremendous skating and hockey sense make the Anaheim Ducks defenseman a tough, tough foe.

"Has to be skating and vision," Lemaire agrees. "Has to be. He's got great vision, and his skating is probably one of the best, if not the best, in the League."

Well Said II --  "I think there was general agreement that the game's in pretty good shape the way it's being played now. We'll look at some fine points tomorrow, but overall I think we'd all agree that the rule package that we put in coming out of the lockout has worked, the game's exciting and well-played." -- Toronto Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke from the GM meetings

Change pays off for Nichol --  Scott Nichol sensed a change of scenery would do him a world of good after a frustrating 43-game season with the Nashville Predators in 2008-09.

So, when the San Jose Sharks dialed him up on July 1, Nichol had a new ZIP code with one of the NHL's top clubs.

"Sometimes change is good and sometimes it isn't," Nichol told John Glennon of The Tennessean. "From my standpoint, I'm really excited and kind of reenergized. I had a kind of a tough year last year, so it was probably good for me to get a new, fresh start and to get the juices flowing again."

"For me, I feel like as long as I'm energized to teach, as long as I don't lose that energy, that fire to teach and build teams, I feel like I can do this at a high level for a long time."
-- Ken Hitchcock

Injuries scuttled a portion of last season for Nichol, and trying to find his past form wasted more time. He finished with 4 goals and 6 assists. Still, the Predators wanted to bring him back, but the Sharks were into signing Nichol early and were persistent.

"(The Sharks) came right at me on July 1 and it was hard to turn down a Presidents' Cup-winning team when they want you to play for their team," Nichol told Glennon. "It would have been silly for me to wait. It was a tough decision in some ways, but not a real tough decision at the time."

Jed Ortmeyer follows in almost exact journey as Nichol. After playing 51 games in Nashville in 2007-08, Ortmeyer had just two NHL games in 2008-09, missing the first couple months because of a blood clot. After getting the medical OK, he spent the majority of the season in the minors. He also signed on with the Sharks and headed into the weekend with 20 games for San Jose.

"I think at that point, there was a misunderstanding," Ortmeyer told Glennon. "I thought I'd just go down a little bit (to AHL Milwaukee) to get in shape, but the more time I spent there and the more injuries there were, I wasn't getting the call.

"So it was really frustrating for me to be down there still. I enjoyed my time, my teammates and coaches. I had no complaints about Milwaukee, but I wanted to be playing in the NHL."

Well Said III --  "Seriously, what are you going to get him?" -- New Jersey Devils goalie Martin Brodeur, on selecting the proper gift for GM Lou Lamoriello's induction into the Hall of Fame.

Nightmare start for Havlat --  Neither the Minnesota Wild nor Martin Havlat have gotten off to the desired start. Heading into weekend play, the Wild were 7-10-1, not what was envisioned in the "State of Hockey."

Havlat was supposed to be the replacement for Marian Gaborik, who left Minnesota for the New York Rangers as a free agent. And after totaling 29 goals and 48 assists in Chicago last season, Havlat seemed like a pretty good answer.

But the start of the season has been a nightmare, as Havlat has just 2 goals and 6 assists in 16 games and an ugly minus-13 rating.

"If we're talking about goals and points, it's probably one of the worst starts I've ever had," Havlat said. "I've been thinking about it, but I've been through ups and downs through my career and it's just a matter of time, they're going to start going in."

New Wild coach Todd Richards says the expectations for Havlat may have been too lofty at the start of the season.

"I think there's just been a lot of things on his plate as far as the transition from Chicago, being a guy who's coming in and everyone is comparing him or wants to compare him to Gaborik, which is really unfair to Marty," Richards said. "There's been a lot of pressures put on and he's familiarizing himself with the city, familiarizing himself with the players.

"There's a lot of new things going on and I think he's starting to feel more comfortable, and when Marty becomes more comfortable, I think we'll start to see his real game."

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