With a Stanley Cup ring on his finger, a Jack Adams Award on his mantle, and more than 500 wins in his pocket, Ken Hitchcock is one of the more confident and cerebral bench bosses in the National Hockey League.
Hitchcock, 60, is also a Civil War buff and a huge fan of -- wait for it -- Palladia TV.
Somehow Hitchcock has been able to mix his love affair with battlefields and history, hockey and pop music to remain one of the top coaches in the game and a leader in how to talk and relate to the current generation of NHL players.
Hitchcock, who won his Jack Adams Award in June for his remarkable turnaround of the St. Louis Blues in 2011-12, gave NHL.com some time recently to discuss how he handles young players, perspective he gained as an unemployed coach, his obsession over winning and losing, and, of course, a controversy that is still alive 13 years after it happened.
Here are Five Questions With … Ken Hitchcock:
How do you try to relate to today's young players in order to avoid the old-school label?
"I think the thing is, you can't be afraid of the questions you're going to get asked. You can't be afraid of them and you can't be offended by them. Players today really want a lot of information, and you have to be prepared to give it to them. They want to know what they need to do. They want to know what is in it for them. And then they want to know where are they going to go with it. You've got to be able to answer all three questions. If you have that attitude with the players of this era, I think it builds a real high level of trust with them."
What type of perspective did you gain by sitting on the sidelines between jobs in Columbus and St. Louis?
"Looking back, it ended up being a very good thing because it allowed me to reconnect with the people in my life that matter. Family, friends, guys that I coached with -- it turned from a very high level of disappointment and frustration for not finishing the job to a really strong reconnection with the people in my life that matter. It turned out to be a real positive for me. I was at a point where I was really enjoying the people part of the business again rather than obsessing with winning and losing. I was starting to really enjoy the people in the business again like I did when I first got in it."
Did you find the obsession over winning and losing came right back and was actually enjoyable when you started coaching the Blues last season?
"Yes, but I think what you learn after you take a step back is that when you've won a lot over a long period of time you start to lose interpersonal relationships with the players and other people, and you just become obsessed with winning. You become obsessed with winning and start detesting losing, and so you become short with people and you forget that you're in the people part of the business. I think that by taking a step back and enjoying other aspects of the game made it more fun to come back into coaching. It made me understand what other people do in this game. I learned a lot from observing American (Hockey) League franchises, juniors, colleges. I learned how hard people work for a lot less money and how much they enjoy it. It gave me a new perspective."
Speaking of perspective, do you view last season with the Blues as a success for what you accomplished (109 points in the regular season), or is it a disappointment because the team only won four playoff games after a very good regular season?
"I look at it as a step. I look at it as a necessary step to get to the next level. Everybody always says you have to lose before you can win -- I'm not sure I agree with that, but I think you have to know what the price is to win. As much as you talk about having a high price, you have to find it. I would have been really disappointed if we would have lost to somebody else other than Los Angeles, but losing to the eventual Stanley Cup winner, there is a great lesson in that step. I think that step is the one you need to take. We made those steps in Dallas and we made those steps in Philadelphia, and I think those steps are so invaluable. We were disappointed, but the knowledge we have now is really going to help us."
What was the best team you ever coached?
"The best team was the 1999 and 2000 (Dallas Stars) teams that went to the Stanley Cup Final. It was pretty much the same team and we were really the sum of our parts. But the team that played the best, to be honest with you, was the team that made the playoffs in Columbus (2008-09). That team maxed out every night to get where they got. We had to frustrate the opposition in different ways every night to get points, and our players bought in to the style they had to play because they wanted to make the playoffs so badly. From a buy-in standpoint, that team bought in as hard as any team I ever coached."
Just because we had to do it, here is a bonus sixth question that should get fans in Dallas and Buffalo buzzing:
I say to you 1999, Game 6, triple OT, Brett Hull. Now, you say to me, goal or no goal?
"Oh, goal for sure. It's a goal for sure because it was a silly rule anyways. The second part is what has made that so good is after a while Stanley Cups run together and it's hard to tell who played who, but no one will ever forget that Stanley Cup Final. That's what has made it so great. Everybody knows about the '99 Cup Final. That makes it great."
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