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Photo Credit: Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

Hitch: Next Chapter

When it comes to being perched at the podium in the mass scrums that are the standard in the NHL, and all sports leagues, these days, Edmonton Oilers’ coach Ken Hitchcock would rather talk about his team and winning games than blather on at any great length about himself.

That held true at Rogers Place this morning even though tonight’s game against, fittingly, the Dallas Stars is as much about Hitchcock as any game can possibly be. After 1,539 regular season games as an NHL coach, 824 wins, a Stanley Cup and a Jack Adams Award, Hitchcock is coaching his first home game in his hometown for the Oilers, a team he grew up cheering for dating back to the WHA.

The return of Hitchcock, who used to work sharpening skates for Wilf Brooks at United Cycle, who cut his coaching teeth with midget teams in Sherwood Park and studied the game at the feet of the great Clare Drake, is a wonderful storyline if ever there was one. A lot of people, like me, could go on, and have gone on, about the good old days with Hitchcock, now 66 and nearing the end of a career that has him sitting third in NHL coaching wins.

Those strolls down memory lane have a place. Likewise, less warm and fuzzy memories for those of you who have cursed Hitchcock for how he used to seemingly beat the Oilers for fun during his days coaching in Dallas. Same thing. All of that said, what matters most to Hitchcock now is what happens next. He’d much rather talk about winning games. I’m guessing long-suffering Oilers’ fans can get on board with that.

COMING HOME

Having posted a 1-1-1 record on a road swing through California after replacing Todd McLellan, Hitchcock faced the obligatory questions about his return to Edmonton today. By the way, there’s a terrific piece about Hitchcock’s homecoming by Tim Campbell that you can find here.

“I don’t know,” Hitchcock said when asked what it means to finally be behind the bench with the Oilers. “You’ve been at it so long, it’s just, to me, I feel just fortunate that I got a chance to coach them. I mean, it’s been a team that I’ve followed since the WHA days. Coaching at home is important, but for me, just getting a chance, at this stage in my life, is really, at times, overwhelming to be honest with you.”

He added: “The emotional part for me is based on former players. Not pro players, but, I mean I spent 12 years in Sherwood Park and I went through a lot of hockey players. I know who are the suite holders and who are the season ticket holders and I know they live and die with the Oilers. That’s the pressure for me. It’s those guys. They put me in a spot where I could make a living at the game.

“I just ran into Bob Green and he gave me a list of who is rolling in. It’s a big deal for them, so it’s a big deal for me. That’s the one part that makes me nervous. I don’t want to let that group – they gave me a lot of success for a long period of time, allowed me to go and coach in junior hockey, allowed me to get in the NHL. I don’t want to let those guys down.” You get the drift. The entire interview is here.

JUST WIN, BABY

Nov 20, 2018; San Jose, CA, USA; Edmonton Oilers head coach Ken Hitchcock yells in a game against the San Jose Sharks at SAP Center at San Jose. Mandatory Credit: Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

While it’s widely perceived that Hitchcock has been brought in as a short-term fix by GM Peter Chiarelli in an attempt to save his own job – and it might play out that way – the former Sherwood Park Chain Gang coach isn’t here to play out the string and go quietly into the night with his long-awaited homecoming now a reality. Hitchcock is here to win. He doesn’t know any other way to wake up in the morning.

Of course, whether he can manage that, whether he can squeeze enough out of the players he’s got now or might get in the coming months to coax this team back into the playoffs, remains to be seen. I can tell you this much, Hitchcock will knock himself out to make it happen and he’ll expect the same from his players for however long their time together lasts. It’s in his DNA.

On a personal level, I’m thrilled as hell to see Hitchcock behind the bench of the Edmonton Oilers after all these years, and I think you should be too. Not for the sake of nostalgia and what he’s accomplished in the past, but for what he and the team he grew up cheering for might do next. I wouldn’t bet against him.

Previously by Robin Brownlee

      • Hemmercules

        What has Nuge ever won?? Good player but he has the loser gene engrained in him from the DOD. When the going gets tough, collect that pay check and take the summer off.

        • OilersGM

          Man we only have a handful of good players and people like you crap on them instead of pointing the finger where it really belongs and that is Chiarelli, the GM that has destroyed this team.

          • Hemmercules

            Chia has to go. He should have been gone 5 months ago. Just saying, when have these guys really ever chose to rise up, fight hard every night and have some swagger like winners do? From Management right down to the bottom. Flash in the pan two years ago. Take Connor out of the equation this entire team folds over like a cheap tent in hurricane.

          • McRaj

            Hey FutureGM you do know that Ray Bourque made playoffs in his first 17 seasons in Boston and 19 of the 20 seasons he played there. Maybe do some research before you go commenting and saying a top 5 all time D-Man is a bum or not a winner.

          • McRaj

            To add further, of those 19 seasons Ray B made playoffs in Beantown, they made the cup finals twice (losing both times to the Oilers), made the conference finals 3 times, made the second round 5 times, and eliminated in first round 9 times. So for over half his seasons in Boston, he at least made the second round. In over a quarter of his seasons he made the conference finals. Your uneducated comment got me fired up. Comparing Nuge to Bourque makes Nuge look like a bum and Nuge is not a bum.

        • SmyttysMulletsRevenge

          Do you even know what you wrote? You said heart of a winner. Big difference when you play your ass off and have the heart to win VS playing on a team built to win.

        • Big Nuggets

          Why blame Nuge for being on a crap team his whole career. You’re trying to start a bs narrative about one of our most useful players. Kessel was too soft too until he got on a good team and won a cup. Same as Shultz, and countless other examples.

  • Rama Lama

    Love the fact that he is the coach……….even if it’s temporary. The team looks to be responding well to Hitch, even if we did lose to LA.

    If Hitch does anything, giving the young guys time to prove they belong, will help this team in the long term. I hope that KY and JP get some good looks, and gain some confidence. This team only lacks confidence………..and maybe a top two defence man, but other than that we have been blessed by the best player in the league.

    Sometime this is easy to forget when you are losing.

  • GK1980

    I liked McClellan and I am neutral on the Hitchcock signing. I hope hitch can get the most out of this team unlike the last 8 coaches….sorry Robin but I’m not holding my breath.

      • JudgeDredd

        Shouldn’t the blame fall on the players? It wouldn’t be so bad if they were competing every night but they have looked so lazy and unfocused, the slow starts and inability to hold momentum are happening far too often.

      • PSinghBSc

        Completely agreed. He still has to get to know the players. Find out what’s going on. This team needs identity and desire. They are young, big, and strong but play slow, uninspired, and disengaged once down. How does one shot against shoot their confidence down so much that there is no drive or attempt to come back? Where is that drive?

  • Ratt McNuge

    The lineup that the Oilers ice is full of holes, but hopefully Hitch can get the most out of what he has. I mean, he does have the most talented player in the game today in the lineup, so I’m sure he’s thrilled at the opportunity to get to be a McCoach.

  • Ratt McNuge

    The Oilers have the ability to beat top teams IF they play well defensively and get all word goaltending. Sadly, defence and goaltending is a terrible weak point for the team. Backcheck, boys. Make saves Kosk and Talby. Help Hitch out a little.

  • Real Oiler Fan since 83

    Out work the other team. It’s simple. Want it more. When is the last time our Edmonton Oilers have done that for a long stretch? 2016-17 we did it and we made the playoffs and should have beaten the ducks. But before that I can’t remember. Probably was 96-99 stretch of good hockey. I miss the Jason Smith, Ethan Moreau, Weight, Grier,
    Marchant teams. Out skilled every night but they out worked every team they faced on a nightly basis (win or lose). It’s so frustrating watching passengers on this roster. Sometimes i feel like this organization could benefit from bringing in someone like Torterella. He doesn’t put up with laziness. It’s black and white. You are either a good teammate or a bad one.

  • ed from edmonton

    When Hitch took over he immediately said he knew what the problems are and how to fix them. I wonder what he meant by that. Any thoughts based on his 1st week?

    So far he may have found an improvement in the “identity line” being able to hold their own. But a couple of strange moves makes me wonder. Why start your 2nd string goaltender for no reason? The line of Cagullia-RNH-JP makes me cringe. Cagullia seems to bring any body not named McD down and JP is a complete mystery. Nuge may have his work cut out tonight.

      • ed from edmonton

        Well it was stated that his FA decision was between the Oil and the Habs and that the Habs may have offered his better coin. So he isn’t opposed to playing in Montreal. He may think that a change of scenery might help. I have to think he would do almost anything to try to salvage his career. Don’t know if Alzner is of any interest to the Oil. They have plenty of LHD, but he may be better than Gravel or Garrisson.

    • AlexTheOilersFanSince2006

      1. McDavid and Draisitl. If you’re gonna use their names, use them properly. None of nickname BS.
      2. If they’re our only assets, why would we trade them?
      3. What kind of username is that?

  • Total Points

    Hitch was a great coach but I am afraid the game has passed him by. He still wants to play a heavy cycle game. I hope he succeeds but the play of the current successful teams are speed and more speed.

    • The game has passed him by. You’re not even close. Maybe you’ve come to this conclusion because of his age, I’m not sure, but you’re way off — in the strategies he employs and how he gets his message across.

      “I think we’ve passed through millennial and we’re into the ‘I’ generation. I think the ‘I’ generation is fascinating because it’s the most prepared generation I’ve ever seen in sport. Academically, too. Culturally, the same. It’s my job to eliminate surprises. It’s my job to make sure they know what I want, why, and what’s in it for them. I’ve got to be open and explain that to them or else they’re not going to buy into that. I think if you’re willing to buy into that stuff, you’re making the adjustments that are necessary. If you just go at it stubbornly and say, ‘This is what I want you to do,’ and they don’t have any impact in the decision-making, and there isn’t discussion, then I don’t think you get anywhere.

      “You’ve got to be comfortable opening up as a coach. You’ve got to be comfortable with the dialogue. I know there’s been lots of times over the past few years where we’ve gotten into discussions and the player hasn’t agreed with me and we’ve negotiated a change and we’ve met halfway.

      “I think that’s what coaching is today – you’ve got to meet them halfway, and you’ve probably got to go the most distance at the start of the conversation.”

  • OnDaWagon

    Not related whatsoever, but, I have to post this.
    Imagine a hockey player who don’t feel underpaid, and feels lucky he’s getting what he is getting.

    Pastrnak does not regret signing the contract, even while his on-ice production continues to grow.

    “Not at all,” Pastrnak said. “If you ask me when I was 15 years old I would be playing for $6 million a year when I’m 22, I don’t think you would be saying the truth. Just a dream come true for me and I’m happy for what I’m getting. I could be playing in Czech for a couple hundred bucks a month. I’m really happy.”

    And he seems like he’s having fun.

  • RexHolez

    Hitchcock is a temporary diversion to give the management a few more weeks before the mob busts down the door. 12 years, 4 with mcdavid and this organization remains a joke. It’d be hilarious if I didn’t grow up watching this team. Sadly I did