TALKING POINTS: Hitchcock speaks of Edmonton, coaching philosophy
Read the full transcript of Oilers Head Coach Ken Hitchcock's media avail from Friday, where he spoke about the city of Edmonton, where he cultivated his coaching philosophy and more
Q: What would you like to see from those guys (bottom pairing defenders) to step up and grab that spot?
A: They're all in that position of error-free. So, the guy that plays the most error-free, which to me that's (Kevin) Gravel right now, that's what you want. You want a guy to keep the puck in front of him, defend well but play an error-free game. That's what you want from your third pair. We're pretty much defined in the top four and the top four are playing an awful lot right now. But we need error-free from that third pair. To me, Gravy's really stepped up and every time we try to experiment, we put somebody in there, there seems to be a little bit of a drop-off. That's just competition within the team. But that's what you want. The puck's got to stay in front of you and you don't want to make a big error.
Q: What's made Vegas Head Coach Gerard Gallant so successful and what's it like going up against his team in a game?
A: Well, they're back feeling it now and playing really well. Gerard is a guy that is really interesting. He has a different approach than a lot of coaches do. I really appreciate his candor and his attitude to where he does it. But his team plays free and they go. They weren't going at the start of the year. They looked like a little bit of the typical, I know having experienced it twice, it's very difficult. Never mind you get the Stanley Cup team going, you at least got some energy based off last year. But to pull it out of the woods when you haven't won and lost, it's very difficult. He had a tough go at the start of the year but he's got them rolling again. I think his ability to get his team to play free mentally is his greatest attribute. He's a very good coach that way. His team is up and running now. They look like the Vegas Knights of last year."
Q: You just look like you're having the time of your life. Is that accurate?
A: Yeah. There's a big difference between stress and pressure. I understand the pressure to win here but I would have never anticipated getting this opportunity. I didn't even think about it and then the call came and three hours later, I'm packing a bag. I never thought this would happen. I know the pressure and responsibility from living in this city for most of my life and what I'm up against. But I feel like I've got an opportunity of a lifetime and I want to enjoy it. I really do want to enjoy it. I want to enjoy an opportunity that I didn't think I would get. My history goes back to the '50s. I knew everybody that played in Ponoka, Lacombe, the Flyers and nuggets. I knew all those guys. So, this is, to me, home. But it's also an opportunity that I would have never got before. Ever.
Q: What are your joys of being in Edmonton?
A: People have asked me all around the world, 'What's Edmonton like?' I've always felt this is a city with a big soul. It doesn't have the flash of other cities but it's got unbelievable soul. I've told people, 'If you go live in Edmonton, Alberta, you'll never want to leave there.' It's got a sense of community. It doesn't feel like big corporations. It's family businesses or run by the children or run by the, now, kids that I know are running a lot of the businesses here are their grandchildren. It's very much a family atmosphere. You feel responsibility. I can feel the people in the stands counting on me trying to get a job done here. At the end of the day, 20 years ago, it would have been stressful but now, I just feel that pressure and I don't mind it. I actually enjoy it. But I feel a responsibility because of how I feel about this city. This city, to me, has an incredible soul and vibrant fibre about it that is second to none. In saying that, if you're going to work in this city, in this type of business where there's the Oilers or the Eskimos, you better be prepared to listen because people got strong opinions. You better be prepared to listen to the opinions because in most cases, quite frankly, they're right. That's what I learned. There's a knowledge here that you don't find anywhere else, especially in the CFL knowledge and in the NHL knowledge. You just don't find it."
Q: You haven't had a chance to have a full practice this week, why the optional today?
A: First of all, it's not an optional. This is called 'designate.' We designate the people based on fitness level that need rest or work. But when we play every second night, we prefer to go on the ice full once as a group. And with the game at 8:00 tomorrow, we talked to the players and we opted to have a practice skate tomorrow, not a pre-game skate, but an actual practice. With it being 8:00, it's a long time and so we talked it over with the leaders last night before they left and it was decided that we'd go full on Saturday and then today would be what's called 'designate.' I don't believe in optional practices. Designate practices, I believe in. That's what you'll see. Sometimes you'll see 18 guys out on an designate practice. It's all based on minutes played and required rest. The balance between the rest and the work taking place."
Q: You've been going through some pretty basic drills and today you threw in a small area game in there. Is that an effort to get back to basics and start building from there?
A: For me, what we try to do at practice right now is run two drills and one competition. So it's all two to one. As soon as we field our second drill, we throw in a competition. And the attitude is no matter what you do if you get your competitive level to another level you can be successful quickly. I've said this to people before: I really believe that this team can get better quicker than even I thought by the way they respect each other and the way they compete against each other in practice. It's been a long time since I've seen a team that competes like this against each other in practice. We've got a lot of things to work on but there's a lot of things in a very short period of time we've gotten a lot better at, which is a good sign. The way they g at each other in practice, it gives you a really good feeling that this team is going to continue to improve and it's going to be an upward climb for a long time."
Q: Lucic, Brodziak and Kassian. Why did you put that trio together and are you getting what you expected out of them?
A: I'm getting more from the line than I thought offensively in pressure. I knew they were good defensively but I'm getting way more offensively than I thought. I'd like them to finish more given the opportunities they're getting but I'm getting more than I thought offensively. I knew how good Brodzy was defensively. The guy that surprised me the most, quite frankly, was Zack Kassian. I didn't know him as a player that much before and I'm pleasantly surprised at how accomplished he is at a number of things that are coach related. I'm pleasantly surprised at his efficiency on the ice. It's a good sign.
Q: You have a strong ideology on this generation's young skaters. Where did you cultivate that and how are you applying it to Jesse Puljujarvi?
A: First of all, on Puljujarvi, I said this to Peter today. I didn't even know anything about him until he came here. Until he actually came and played. I didn't pay attention to him when I coached against him but somebody really coached him well. He's a well-coached player at a young age and what I mean by that is he's got an incredible stick. He hides it well and then spears it out when he needs to use it as a checking mechanism. He creates a lot of turnovers so somebody has really worked well and he's received the information properly. Whether it was back in Finland or with Todd and his group here, I find him to be a very effective player. I know he's not scoring at the rate that people thought he would. That's going to come. But man, he has a lot of things that as a coach, you love in a game. He creates more turnovers and more pressure on people than a lot of players at his age. It's a good thing.
For me, on the generation stuff, quite frankly, I like studying that stuff. I like learning from it. I go to pretty big leadership institutes in Europe and in the United States. There are not NHL people there. I think MacT is the only person from the NHL that's ever been to one. But I go to those twice a year in the summer and I enjoy them. It's soccer, it's rugby, it's international swimming, it's cultural musicianship, stuff like that. You learn how to work with that generation. I studied that stuff big time."
Q: It's fun to watch players who know of your reputation but have never worked with you before. They discover a playful side that you have. Have you seen that sort of thing happening already with this group?
A: Yeah. The reputation is something easy to talk about but it's not who I am. The reputation that precedes me is not close to what I really am. The players that play for me, they're the ones that matter and they know. People know what I'm like. I'm really negotiable in a lot of things. There are certain things I'm non-negotiable with. I'm non-negotiable when the other team has the puck. They learn the balance between what I'm willing to give up and what I'm not. Once the players learn that, then they have a good relationship with me but to me, I'm one of these guys that I try to get you to understand that the harder I push you, the more I believe in you. When I'm pushing, it's because I trust and believe in you. I continue to push because I really see something there. These players are hopefully starting to understand that. That I care about their success and I want them to be successful. There's a reason I push. It's because I see a lot there to push and I want them to believe in that.
Q: Are you familiar with Valentin Zykov?
A: No, I'm not. I got the scouting report and I talked to the people I trust that saw him play a lot. So, I have that information but I don't remember him much as a player. That information had to come from Peter and his staff. When we picked him up on waivers, I called the two people I know that know him really well and they gave me a report on him.