The 2023 Hockey Hall of Fame induction is Monday. This class includes Henrik Lundqvist, Tom Barrasso, Pierre Turgeon, Mike Vernon, Caroline Ouellette. Ken Hitchcock and Pierre Lacroix. Here NHL.com columnist Dave Stubbs profiles Hitchcock.

Ken Hitchcock has heard the story forever, a tale that has grown to become hockey lore -- how he sharpened hundreds upon hundreds of pairs of skates at Edmonton’s legendary United Cycle, his road to Class of 2023 Hockey Hall of Fame induction beginning with a shower of sparks from a grinding wheel.

It’s time, Hitchcock says with a laugh, to set the record straight.

“The only time I ever sharpened skates was on Saturdays because the store was so busy," he said in recent conversation. "It was to give one of the guys working on the machine a break.”

And then, the anxiety was back.

“When good players came in on a Saturday to get their skates done, I was always a little bit nervous,” Hitchcock said. “You wanted to make sure you got it done properly. Sometimes, the (edge) was too sharp and I was always chasing it. I was very average at angles. You measured it by putting a dime on the edge of the blade to make sure it was level. Sometimes, my eyesight wasn’t great.”

That might have been the last thing in hockey in which Hitchcock has not excelled.

Coach, counselor, confidante; motivator, educator, champion.


Ken Hitchcock with the 2012 Jack Adams Award as the NHL’s coach of the year, which he won with the St. Louis Blues. He was a finalist for the award with the Dallas Stars three years consecutively, in 1997, 1998 and 1999.

Awarded Hockey Canada’s Order of Hockey in Canada in 2019 for his contribution to the sport in his native country and enshrined last month in the Dallas Stars Hall of Fame, Hitchcock will enter the Hockey Hall of Fame as a Builder on Monday, a humble, hugely popular man whose impact in hockey touches almost every level of the game.

“It’s such a great honor,” Hitchcock said in June, having learned of his shrine election in a call from chairman Lanny McDonald and selection-committee chairman Mike Gartner.

“My career started in minor hockey, coaching kids. To reach this stage is almost overwhelming to me. … This is an unbelievable honor for a guy who started his hockey just coaching kids.”

From Junior B, Midget AAA and coaching fundamentals to girls in his native Edmonton, Hitchcock graduated to guide Kamloops of the Western Hockey League to great success during the 1980s. 

He would further that experience in the minor-pro International Hockey League, bound for 22 seasons as coach for five NHL teams between 1995-2019. The 71-year-old won 849 games, fourth all-time in the NHL, during a 1,598-game career that included the 1998-99 Stanley Cup championship with the Dallas Stars and being voted winner of the 2011-12 Jack Adams Award with the St. Louis Blues as the best coach in the League.

In 14 of his 22 seasons, he took his teams to the Stanley Cup Playoffs.


Ken Hitchcock in a 1986 portrait as coach of the WHL’s Kamloops Blazers, and in 2018 with the Edmonton Oilers.

Hitchcock has also served as either head or associate coach internationally for Canada at the IIHF World Championship, World Juniors, World Cup of Hockey and four Olympic Games, three gold medals won at the Olympics.

The career die was cast very early in Hitchcock’s youth. His late father, Ray, who was lost to cancer when Hitchcock was just 14, worked for Imperial Oil and ran community leagues in Edmonton, coaching midget and juvenile teams in the Ottewell and Holyrood neighborhoods. 

As manager of an outdoor rink, Ray Hitchcock was responsible for every facet of the heavily used facility and he had an enthusiastic young son riding shotgun most every step of the way.

“Those were all things I learned about the work that goes into hockey,” Hitchcock reflected. “The rules of the game, making ice, flooding, scraping, running practices, coaching teams. 

“I look back on those hours and the work ethic and I think it really helped me to understand how much work goes into running a rink and a team, how involved it is. It really gave me a perspective of how much work has to be put in if you’re going to be successful.


Ken Hitchcock as a coach on Canada’s gold medal-winning 2010 Vancouver Olympic hockey team. It was one of three gold medals he would win on the Olympic stage. From left: fellow coaches Mike Babcock, Jacques Lemaire and Lindy Ruff.

“I followed my dad around all the time. I had a leg up very early in my life, what it was like to be around a coach. Some people follow players, but I followed coaches. My dad wanted to learn about coaching too, so we’d watch the (major-junior) Oil Kings practice, or the (senior) Edmonton Flyers when I was really young. I was around coaches at a very early age. 

“When I got into coaching, I felt that I needed to do everything I could, never having played in the NHL, to get the players to believe that I knew what I was talking about. I went out of my way to learn. Whether it was sneaking in to watch the Edmonton Oilers in their early days, or Clare Drake’s practices at the University of Alberta, or (future NHL assistant coach) Perry Pearn at NAIT (Northern Alberta Institute of Technology). 

“I went to those practices every spare moment so I could learn about the game and the concepts for use when it came time for me to progress as a coach.”

Hitchcock would find his way into work at Edmonton’s United Cycle, for a dozen years specializing in team sales. He was almost a born salesman, tools that he said were a huge benefit as a hockey coach at every level.

“The sporting goods industry was a very competitive business,” he said. “You were selling yourself, the belief that what you were trying to sell was the right item for your customers and their teams. 

“Working in sales helped me immensely in hockey. I felt comfortable selling ideas or concepts or creating a buy-in because for 12 years at the store, I had to convince people that we were the place to buy for teams. It helped me a lot. It just made me comfortable trying to convince people to buy something that they needed. And that made me comfortable as I moved through the coaching ranks.”


Ken Hitchcock behind the bench of the Dallas Stars. He coached the Stars to the 1999 Stanley Cup championship.

At United Cycle, he found the father figure he had lost with the death of his father at age 40; his mother, Janet, also was lost to cancer seven years later. And he rediscovered his focus that had slipped away with the passing of his father, the center of his universe.

“Wilf Brooks, the store manager, became my father in a very large way,” said Hitchcock, who calls Brooks the most influential figure in his life away from the rink. “He provided me with the guidance, direction, firmness and discipline that I needed in my life. 

“All of a sudden, I had to be at work on time, six days a week. Thursday and Friday were 12-hour days, I needed discipline in my life if I wanted to succeed in the sporting-goods industry, I needed really firm direction. I was going sideways, to be honest. Working for Wilf and United Cycle gave me the personal direction I needed and that has helped me throughout my life.”

From two years with Edmonton-area Sherwood Park Junior B, Hitchcock graduated to the district’s Midget AAA hockey factory, winning 575 games against just 69 losses during his time at the helm.

“We had a substantial run in Sherwood Park,” he said in grand understatement. “We had an unbelievable number of kids playing minor hockey. I had a massive group to draw from. We created almost a cult with the midget team. We went out of our way to find extra practice time, tournaments, to treat it all as professionally as we could. The goal was to play for the Midget AAA team and it really sold well in Sherwood Park.”

Ken Hitchcock resume

The first two pages of Ken Hitchcock’s resume, which he wrote by hand in 1984 on a flight to a job interview with the WHL Kamloops Blazers.

Further west in the summer of 1984, they were paying attention in Kamloops, British Columbia, the major-junior Blazers looking for a coach. They reached out to Hitchcock and invited him for an interview.

“Bring your resume,” they told him.

Hitchcock had nothing of the kind, so he rushed to an Edmonton airport gift shop, bought some paper, then scribbled five pages by hand on the flight, using stats frantically cobbled together for him by a Sherwood Park hockey programmer. Among the references he listed were two early coaching mentors: Drake, who he will join in the Hall of Fame as a builder, and Pearn.

“I can’t believe I was dumb enough to write that,” he jokes of the resume, which is still on file with the Blazers.

He interviewed well, was called back for a second meeting and was hired for the 1984-85 season, prepared for the step up to major-junior. Or so he thought.

“I was very prepared as the actual coaching, but I was very ill prepared for what went on in the WHL and how the league worked. I had no clue,” Hitchcock said. “I was really lucky that I had an experienced group of players who are really good friends to this day, who guided me through the first two or three months of the season. I didn’t know where to point the bus. These guys really helped me a lot, believed in me, gave me the confidence that I could coach in the WHL.


Ken Hitchcock as assistant coach of the 1992-93 Philadelphia Flyers.

“I had coached 12 years of midget hockey and in those years, my team had had one fight. My first exhibition game in Kamloops, after 10 minutes of the first period, there was one player, the spare goalie and me left on the bench. It was an unbelievable eye-opener. I thought, ‘What have I got myself into here?’

“All that we did in Kamloops was win, for six years (291 wins, 125 losses and 15 ties). We had a great GM in Bob Brown and an unbelievable group of scouts. I always felt that in junior, we were a cut above everybody.”

Hitchcock led the Blazers to four consecutive division titles, league championships in 1985-86 and 1989-90 and twice went to the Memorial Cup tournament. He was named the WHL’s coach of the year in 1987 and 1990, also selected as the best coach in Canadian major-junior hockey that second year.

Inevitably, the NHL came calling, the Philadelphia Flyers hiring him in 1990 as assistant coach. After three seasons there, Hitchcock took his first pro head coaching job, hired by Minnesota North Stars GM Bob Gainey to run the Stars’ International league affiliate in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Thirty-nine games into the 1995-96 season, Gainey brought him south to coach the relocated Dallas Stars. 

It is Gainey, Hitchcock says, who forever changed his mindset as a coach as he prepared for his first full season behind the Stars bench. Gainey, he says, was the most influential figure in his coaching career.

“Bob’s greatest strength was that he could see the big picture,” he said. “He gave me the process of long-term perspective and it really helped me as a coach.”


Dallas Stars coach Ken Hitchcock with a puck to celebrate his 800th career regular-season victory, which came at home against the Chicago Blackhawks on Dec. 21, 2017.

Hitchcock guided the Stars to the 1999 Stanley Cup in his third full season. They’d be Western Conference champions the following season, losing a six-game Final to the New Jersey Devils.

From 2002-19, he’d be hired to coach the Flyers, Columbus Blue Jackets, St. Louis Blues, the Stars again for a season, then his hometown Oilers in 2018-19, his final year.

Hockey is a game of so many statistics, but Hitchcock can find one that’s especially meaningful: 22, the number of years he was an NHL head coach. He’ll have roughly that many family members and friends as his guests for Hall of Fame weekend.

“We’re in a sport where you get hired and fired. That’s the way it is,” he said. “But I was able to get jobs pretty quickly after being fired. I’m proud of that. You’re never happy when you’re let go, but I’m proud that I was able to continue to get work in a job I love doing. Somebody must have thought something of me that I could make a difference.”

Those thoughts, and more, will be shared in his induction speech.

“It’s really important that I have a chance to explain what it’s like to be a coach,” Hitchcock said. “I’m going to try my best to explain the coach’s mindset and how we feel about things. It’s really important that I say a few words on behalf of coaching in general. I think it’s a very noble profession and I feel very strongly about being able to explain why I think it is.”

Top photo: Ken Hitchcock behind the bench of the Edmonton Oilers before his team’s game against the Dallas Stars on Nov. 27, 2018 at Rogers Place in Edmonton.

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