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'Do your job': Hatcher, Matvichuk were at center of Stars' title chase

Dallas' decision to let its physical duo hammer Colorado's superstar top line in the 1999 conference finals proved key

by Mike Heika @MikeHeika / Senior Staff Writer

Brett Hull had a great saying about Derian Hatcher and Richard Matvichuk.

The former Stars winger laughed when he issued this bon mot: "Those two should win the Norris Trophy every year. Because they shut down the other team's top line and they shut down our top line, too."

The Stars back in the day liked to play in five-man groups, and that meant that Hull, Mike Modano and Jere Lehtinen typically were on the ice with Hatcher and Matvichuk. That created a defensive mindset, and limited some of the scoring for the top line. But the strategy typically worked, because the top line would often outscore the other team's best unit.

In the 1999 Western Conference finals against the Colorado Avalanche, however, coach Ken Hitchcock switched up his strategy a little bit. He put Guy Carbonneau out against Peter Forsberg's line, and allowed Hatcher and Matvichuk to really hammer on the superstar forward -- and that ended up being a big key in the Stars winning in seven games.

"They loved that challenge and they rose to it," Hitchcock said.

Hatcher and Matvichuk played a very hard game. Hatcher was suspended for seven games at the end of the regular season for a hit that broke the jaw of Jeremy Roenick. Matvichuk had to step up and lead the physical charge while Hatcher missed the first five playoff games. Hatcher was 6-foot-5, 245 pounds. Matvichuk was 6-3, 215. Each was drafted eighth overall in their respective draft year by the Minnesota North Stars.

"We pretty much came up together, started in Minnesota and moved down to Dallas," said Hatcher. "We were partners on the ice, and roommates, we were just really close."

And that made the assignment against Forsberg and Avalanche players like Joe Sakic, Milan Hejduk and Adam Deadmarsh pretty routine, Hatcher said.

 

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"They had some really good players in Forsberg and Sakic, but you know what, that was our job all year, so it didn't seem that different to me," Hatcher said. "Playoffs are different because you play the same team over and over and the pressure gets higher, but Matty and I had been together for so long, and it was our job to go against the other team's best players."

Matvichuk said that the "team" philosophy started by general manager Bob Gainey and carried out by Hitchcock and assistants Rick Wilson and Doug Jarvis made it easy to simply "do your job." He said that teammates would hold each other accountable, and that you never wanted to let your teammate down.

He said having Hatcher as his defensive partner also helped him do his job.

"It probably helped that my partner was 6-5, 245 pounds and as tough as they came," Matvichuk said with a laugh. "When we got on the ice, the combativeness just naturally came out. Having Hatch there and knowing he had my back, that probably helped me a great deal. I didn't have to fight. Hatch did it for us."

There wasn't much fighting at this level of the playoffs, but Matvichuk found a way to make a huge impact. He had a hit on Hejduk that knocked him out of the series with a shoulder injury, and then he and Forsberg got tangled up and collided with the boards in a play that left each hobbled.

"We had to do whatever we could. I just remember we were playing for our lives every game," Matvichuk said. "The hit on Hejduk, I still remember. He was coming down the right side and I caught him with a clean shoulder check. And then Forsberg and I were chasing down an icing and we both leaned at the same time. Peter hurt his shoulder and I hurt my groin. It was just one of those things."

Both teams battled through injuries and that's one of the things that made the series so memorable. Colorado took a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven series and Game 6 was set at McNichols Arena. With their season on the line, the Stars played one of their best games of the season and won 4-1. Dallas had a 40-27 advantage in shots on goal, and Matvichuk scored a goal late to put the game away.

"That was probably one of the best games we ever played. There weren't many mistakes, we were all on the same page. It was a great feeling," Matvichuk said. "We knew we were a good team. It started with Bob Gainey and went through Hitch and Rick and Doug, and there was just a confidence that we could win. We never got too high or too low, and we usually responded pretty well to a challenge."


The Stars then went back to Reunion Arena and won Game 7 by the same 4-1 score, and that clinched the first trip to the Stanley Cup Final since the team moved to Dallas. Matvichuk had an assist on one of Mike Kean's two goals.

Hatcher said the team always remained focused, and that was one of the true tests moving forward.

"I don't think we were relieved at all, we wanted to win the whole thing," Hatcher said. "I think you look the next year in 2000 where we lost in the Final, that was a bitter feeling. We always had one goal in mind, and that's what was driving us."

Hatcher is currently head coach and part-owner of the Sarnia Sting of the Ontario Hockey League. They have finished their season, and Hatcher said the focus now is on when they might be able to start next season.

"We'll see going forward. A lot will have to do with the Canadian government," Hatcher said.

As for coaching younger players, he said he loves it. He started his career in player development with the Flyers and said the transition has been good.

"The biggest challenge is dealing with younger players and knowing they're all different and all come from different backgrounds," he said. "It's a lot like the NHL. A lot of people have to come together to form a team."

Matvichuk also got the coaching bug. He and teammate Craig Ludwig worked with the Dallas Stars Elite program and then both moved on to the Allen Americans. Matvichuk was an assistant coach on two championship teams in Allen and that led to a head coaching gig with the Missouri Mavericks. He won coach of the year in the ECHL, and that led to earning the head coaching job with Prince George of the WHL.

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Matvichuk was released in 2019 from that job, and he has since been named the Hockey Director for the Burnaby Winter Academy in British Columbia. Matvichuk, who helps organize 19 teams, said he enjoys working with the younger players and creating opportunities so they can advance.

That said, the fire to be a head coach will always be there.

"Obviously, coaching is in my blood and I'd love to get back into it," he said. "You always dream about coaching in the NHL, and that's probably still the ultimate goal."

As for looking back, both say the memories are great. Both still interact with former teammates and both say they feel the family vibe. Hatcher said he ran into Jamie Langenbrunner, who is working in player development with the Bruins, when he was looking at some players in Sarnia.

"We probably talked for a half hour and I think he asked one question about one of our guys," Hatcher said. "We kind of picked up like it was yesterday."

Because yesterday was pretty special.

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club.

Mike Heika is a Senior Staff Writer for DallasStars.com and has covered the Stars since 1994. Follow him on Twitter @MikeHeika, and listen to his podcast.

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