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Ken Hitchcock: 'This is like coming home for me'

Hitchcock returns for a second stint as head coach of the Dallas Stars

by Mark Stepneski @StarsInsideEdge / Inside Edge

Dallas Stars GM Jim Nill said he wanted to move quickly on getting a new head coach, and he did. Nill and the Stars made it official Thursday that Ken Hitchcock, the man who led Dallas to the 1999 Stanley Cup, will be behind the Dallas bench once again.

"Ken's resume speaks for itself," Nill said. "Talking with him, I was so thrilled and excited about his passion to get back to coaching. He's recharged, and he wants to make a difference. I know he is the right man for the job."

Hitchcock, who was let go by the St. Louis Blues in February, will take over for Lindy Ruff, who parted ways with the Stars after the team decided not to renew his contract. Hitchcock returns to the team that gave him his first NHL coaching job back in 1996.

"This is an emotional day for me because this is like coming home," Hitchcock said. "This means the world for me."

Nill said Hitchcock received a multi-year contract to coach the Stars and that he'll move into a consulting job when he's done coaching.

"This is a deal where he's going to be with us for a while," Nill said.

Hitchcock is 781-474-199 (.606) in his career with the Stars, Philadelphia, Columbus and St. Louis, ranking fourth all-time among NHL coaches in wins. He guided the Stars to the 1999 Stanley Cup and the Stanley Cup Final in 2000. He coached the Stars over seven seasons (1996-2002), compiling a 277-154-72 (.622) record and is the franchise's all-time leader in wins and playoff wins (47).

"I can tell you this is really not about what Ken accomplished here," said Stars president Jim Lites. "[It's] all about what Ken Hitchcock can bring to this franchise right now."

And the hope is that the 65-year-old Hitchcock can get the Stars back on track following a dismal 2016-17 that saw them go 34-37-11 (79 points) and produce the team's second lowest point total in a non-lockout season in the Dallas era.

But Hitchcock said he's not reading too much into what the Stars did this past season and will lean on the 2015-16 Stars, especially what he saw in the playoffs that season when the Stars took his Blues to seven games in the second round.

"We've all been through these type of seasons as coaches. You start off on the backburner because of injuries, you have to play catch-up, and it's hard to get going," Hitchcock said. "But I am banking on [the Stars] of one year ago because I saw something special. I saw something special in the captain, in Jamie [Benn]. I saw something special in the good players, and I saw something special in the spirit. I know I can get that back quickly."

But Hitchcock, who is known for his demanding style, acknowledged it wouldn't be any easy ride getting the Stars where they need to be. Benn, Tyler Seguin, Jason Spezza and Dan Hamhuis were the Stars players on hand as Hitchcock talked to the media Thursday morning.

"This is not going to be fun every day," he said while looking at the players. "But forming a partnership with you guys is going to be more important than anything."

Those partnerships are already forming. Hitchcock started meeting with players Wednesday to lay out what is coming down the road.

"He's got a game plan set, and he's really well-prepared already," said Benn. "I had a great chat with him yesterday for about an hour and a half. He's got a game plan, and it's up to us as players to execute it. It's a very detailed and structured game plan, and I'm looking forward to playing for him."

"I've had a chance to play for Hitch a couple of times internationally," said Spezza. "His presence and attention to detail is second to none, so as a player, that's both exciting and knowing that he's going to demand a lot out of you, but I think it shows a commitment from the organization to want to win now."

And Hitchcock is relishing the opportunity to help the Stars get back to winning.

"I feel that this is an unbelievable opportunity for me," Hitchcock said. "I feel very comfortable with this group that we can trigger this thing back on schedule real, real quick."

Quotable Hitch

On if the perception that his demanding style wears on players: "Yeah, and I'm proud of it."

On the hiring of assistant coaches: "I know what we want, Jim knows what we want, we just don't know who they are yet. And no they are not Mike Modano. He'd have my job in a week."

On his assistant coaches: "They're not assistant coaches, they're coordinators. They can handle their own domain, and they can handle me."

On the Stars style of play: "To me, Dallas Stars hockey is reckless energy with proper positional play, and I'll bring that forward. But I don't ever want to lose that reckless energy that they had last year."

On the past: "I study history. I look at it all the time. But I don't live it. The history that was brought on here are just great lessons for us, an ultimate team. That's what was here before, and that's the goal again. The game has changed, and it's changed a lot. But you are not going to change character, compete, and that's what that franchise was for the five or six years I was here. That's not going to change, and we don't want it to ever change. If that's the one thing I can bring forward from that time, that's what I want to bring forward. But this is a new era."

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This story was not subject to approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club. Mark Stepneski is an independent writer whose posts on reflect his own opinions and do not represent official statements from the Dallas Stars. You can follow Mark on Twitter @StarsInsideEdge.

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