Veteran National Hockey League head coach Ken Hitchcock spent a portion of his Christmas holidays in Lethbridge this year. The reason why he ventured to southern Alberta? To give back to the community in which he feels a responsibility to.
'The native of Edmonton, Alberta was on hand for the 2005 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge which touched down in the city of Lethbridge, AB. But the Philadelphia Flyers bench boss was equally interested in putting on a classroom coaching clinic, and an on-ice session for fellow Albertan hockey coaches. In fact Hitchcock has been putting on a variety of coaching clinics over the past few months while the NHL finds itself in lockout mode. He has also done a variety of volunteer coaching assignments including spending a couple weeks with the NCAA Princeton Tigers, the men’s varsity hockey club out of Princeton, N.J.
“I didn’t really know what I was getting into when I first started them, though I’ve really enjoyed them. I’ve had just a world of experience at every level now. I’ve found that for me, I’m getting more out of it than the kids are! I’m really learning how to interact with younger people again, so I’m really enjoying it. I think the interaction with the families, parents, and players as being a real joy for me right now.”
Consistency and patience has been a Hitchcock trademark as he has established a winning tradition with the teams he has coached through the years. From a WHL Championship in Kamloops, to a Stanley Cup in Dallas, Hitchcock is a firm believer in sticking with the task you’ve been assigned.
“Sometimes coaches are guilty of trying to move up the ladder too quickly, and they end up not doing a good job where they’re at. Where you’re at, do the best job possible and let your actions speak louder than anything. If you do a good job, people will find you. There are lots of people looking for good coaches. But you have to be very good at doing an effective job at the place you’re at right now. What ever level you’re at, you have to do a good job.”
Hitchcock has a strong background in coaching international hockey as well. He was the associate coach for Team Canada’s national team which won the 2004 World Cup of Hockey in September. He also served as an associate coach for Canada’s gold medal team at the 2002 Winter Olympics, and was an assistant coach for the gold medal team at the 1987 World Junior Championships. He is intrigued by the Under-17 championships taking place in Lethbridge, and offered his perspective on Canadian kids playing in this international event.
“Once you get more into the development side of things, the more competition you can get at the elite level, the more exposure you will get to different formulas. Whether it’s the Czechs, the Slovaks, or the Americans, the more (international hockey) experience you can get, the more confidence you will have. I think every little piece of experience you get at this level will really help you further on down the line. I think you (leave here with) a clear understanding that there is an awful lot of good players in the world right now.”
Hitchcock offered one final piece of advice to the kids of this tournament and the kids across Canada who have professional hockey ambitions.
“The distinguishing feature between the players that make it and the players that don’t are the players that do two things. (First) they continue to work on fundamentals, and (second) they develop a strong work ethic. The work ethic, along with the development fundamentals are the two things that are going to give you a chance to be a player at the end of the day.”