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Hitch Gets the Call

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Photo credit:James Carey Lauder-USA TODAY Sports
Robin Brownlee
8 months ago
I always knew Ken Hitchcock was as all-in as all-in can possibly be back in the 1980’s when he was head coach of the Kamloops Blazers in the WHL, but I’d be making things up if I told you then I thought he’d end up in the HHOF today. Yet here we are.
Hitchcock, 71, was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame today with a 2023 class including Henrik Lundqvist, Pierre Turgeon, Mike Vernon, Tom Barrasso and Caroline Ouellette. Former GM Pierre Lacroix joins Hitchcock in the builder’s category. It turns out I’m not the only one who didn’t see Hitchcock’s induction into the HHOF coming.
“I wasn’t even ready for it,” Hitchcock told me this afternoon. “I didn’t even know the day they were announcing this stuff. When Lanny (McDonald) called, I must have sounded like a bumbling idiot because I wasn’t ready for it.”
From Kamloops, where he led the Blazers to a 291-125-15 record, was named Coach of the Year in 1987 and 1990 and won league titles in 1987 and 1990, to a career in the NHL that produced 849 regular season wins, fourth most in league history, a Stanley Cup with Dallas in 1999, a Jack Adams Award and a cup of coffee in 2018-19 with the Edmonton Oilers, Hitchcock has always been a student of the game. 

PUTTING IN THE WORK

Back in the day, if you went downtown in Kamloops to see a movie or go to the bar when the Blazers weren’t on the road, you’d most likely see Hitchcock’s car parked in front of the team office at all hours. Whether he was fiddling with the satellite dish, watching hockey or breaking down videotape, he was there. 
“I’m, not going in just for my NHL record because that comes and goes,” Hitchcock said. “I’m proud of what I did in international play, in junior hockey. Even the camps, the summer camps. I’m proud of all that stuff. It feels like a well-rounded career.”
Like I said, all in, and that didn’t change when he finally made it to the NHL as an assistant coach with Philadelphia in 1990. I’d left The Loops for the Edmonton Journal in late 1989 and I won’t soon forget the phone call I got when Hitchcock talked about going to The Show and packing his bags for Philly.

THE EDMONTON CONNECTION

Hitchcock made NHL coaching stops with Dallas, Philadelphia, Columbus, and St. Louis before finally circling back home with the Oilers. Aside from the 1999 Stanley Cup win against the Buffalo Sabres, many of Hitchcock’s most memorable moments played out against the Oilers during what turned into a marathon of post-season meetings with Edmonton.
Of course, there’s no small amount of irony in that given his many connections here. Hitchcock broke in behind the bench in a big way as coach of the Sherwood Park Chain Gang. They were what, 800-4 under Hitchcock? It was 575 wins and 69 losses, actually. Hitchcock worked for Wilf Brooks, who was just inducted into the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame in May, at United Cycle. As a coach, he learned much of his trade from the great Clare Drake and Bill Moores of the Alberta Golden Bears.
While his prime years as a coach were behind him by the time he finally got to Edmonton as a replacement for Todd McLellan, I was happy to see him get the opportunity. He still had a passion for the game when Bryn Griffith and I spoke with him in  May of 2021 on our podcast. For all the time we’d spent over the years talking hockey, one comment Hitch made sticks with me because it speaks to his career as a coach and a collaborator. A builder.
“I was lucky enough,” Hitchcock said of the influence of Drake and Moores early in his career. “The sporting goods store, United Cycle, I worked at was a five-minute drive from the U of A. I went at least twice a week and sometimes three times a week to watch the Bears practice. Billy and Clare let me into their world.
“I’d go down and sit with Billy and Clare after the game, stuff like that, and they let me into their world. They shared with me. I felt like when I was coaching midget hockey at that time, I was way, way ahead of everybody . . . the style the Oilers played when they won their Cups, that really started with the U of A Bears.”
Take a bow, Hitch. What a career.

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