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Photo Credit: Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

Hitch: All In As Always

Knowing Ken Hitchcock as I do, I’m confident saying that if he had his way, he’d be back standing behind the bench as the coach of the Edmonton Oilers next season. As we know, that’s not going to happen because after less than a full season with the team he long wanted to coach, he’s out in favour of Dave Tippett.

Coaching isn’t just what Hitchcock does. It’s who he is and has been since he took a job coaching midget with the Sherwood Park Chain Gang while sharpening skates at United Cycle so many years ago. It’s understandable, then, that it stung a bit when Hitchcock was moved aside for Tippett by POHO and GM Ken Holland in what’s been a significant shake-up in the hockey ops department of a team that needed it.

Hitchcock is over that now, at least as much as a lifelong coach like him can be over it. While Hitchcock might be done as Oilers’ coach, he’s not out of the picture with the Oilers. He talked about that today with Oilers Now host Bob Stauffer and co-host Mark Spector – a day that began with him receiving the Order of Hockey in Canada. It’s recognition of a career that includes the 1999 Stanley Cup and the 2012 Jack Adams Award as NHL coach of the year on a resume that’s as long as your arm.

While Hitchcock and Holland haven’t defined exactly what his role will be moving forward, he left no doubt today that he’s all-in with the Oilers and will contribute whatever his bosses ask of him during the two years he has left on his contract. Hitchcock, third in NHL regular season career wins with 839, will go into the books 26-28-8 as coach of the Oilers, but he’s got more to give. That’s a good thing.

WHAT HE SAID

“You know what, we’ve been working hard together for four days now trying to help Tipps (Tippett) and the coaching staff,” said Hitchcock of working with Holland. “I’ve really enjoyed working with Ken on the coaching selection and, now, on the player side of things. I’ve really enjoyed the last two weeks here.

“I don’t know where this is going to take me, but both of us are locked in and grinding. I can tell you that right now. We’re trying to do everything we can to help this hockey club get better and a lot of it is tilted now on personnel, obviously. I’m taking pride in doing a lot of the dirty work for him, looking at players and trying to help him there. I’m really enjoying this responsibility.

“I really want to help and dig in and continue down this path Ken and I’ve got going right now. With Bob’s (Nicholson) blessing we can figure out something to help everybody, but I also want to stay away from Tipp and these guys. I don’t want to be the guy hovering over it.

“I think there’s a role and it’s evolving. It’s kind of dual right now. I know what I’m doing until the first week of July. I know what responsibilities I have until then and I kind of know what’s happening during training camp. After that, we’ll figure out how it sorts out. I’ve got to tell you, working with Ken, going through what we’re going through, I’m learning a lot. It’s been a fun experience and I’m dug in trying to help this organization.”

THE WAY I SEE IT

Hitchcock, 67, is first and foremost a coach. I witnessed that first-hand riding the buses with him with the Kamloops Blazers in the WHL in the 1980s. I’ve never envisioned him making the transition to another role, but the time might be right for that shift now that he’s finally landed back in his hometown, where things started for him all those years ago.

I laughed out loud when Hitchcock talked about grinding today because that, along with a passion for the game and complete dedication to it since he learned his craft at the feet of the great Clare Drake, has long been his trademark. One way or another, if you give Hitchcock the time he needs and the players to get it done, he’ll put in the work and find a way to beat you.

Behind the bench or not, that’s a valuable asset to have blended in with new voices, new ways of looking at the game and the necessary changes we’re seeing with this organization now. Holland is smart enough to know that, and the Oilers will be better for it.

THE 2019 DRAFT PARTY

  • Where? At the Canadian Brewhouse (Lewis Estates – 1320 Webber Greens Dr NW)
  • When? Friday, June 21st, doors open at 4:30 pm
  • How much? $10 per ticket
  • What do you get? Free pizza card from the Brewhouse, $10 Oodle Noodle promo card, Nation stickers, chance to win a signed RNH jersey provided by ATB Financial and draw prizes.
  • Where can I buy? Get your tickets here before they sell out!
  • Why? Because we love to party

Tickets are available here and will be on sale straight through until the date of the party. Thanks so much for the support and we look forward to seeing you there.

Previously by Robin Brownlee