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Former Edmontonian's coaching philosophy, winning know-how, appeal to Blue Jackets players
Jim Matheson, The Edmonton Journal
Sunday, December 03, 2006


EDMONTON - Ken Hitchcock walked into Rexall Place on Saturday and people actually offered up a hearty hello, and not because of any pre-Christmas cheer.

"What was unique for me was people said, 'Welcome home.' There's been a lot of other language passed with what we did when I was with Dallas," said the former United Cycle skate sharpener and new Columbus Blue Jackets' coach.

Hitchcock left the rink with a big smile on his face and a 4-0 win over the Oilers -- his team's best effort in the five games he has been behind the bench.

The Jackets, now 2-3 under Hitchcock, smothered the Oilers.

Fredrik Norrena got the perfect game, although he says he didn't relax and think about a shutout until there were about 12 seconds left.

He needn't have worried. His team did an admirable job keeping the Oilers, who have now lost three in a row, at bay.

Former Oilers winger Jason Chimera, who had a very strong 19-minute game for the Jackets, is tickled to have Hitchcock calling the shots.

"He puts things on a level you can

understand ... hockey players are down-to-earth guys and he explains things easily," said Chimera.

"Guys are buying in. He speaks a language we want to hear."

It's been awfully dark in the tunnel in Columbus for years.

"We see a little bit of light now," said Chimera, who was well aware that Hitchcock won a Stanley Cup in Dallas and had won about 60 percent of his NHL games.

"He had instant credibility with the players, and the ones who won't listen to his coaching and his message will eventually be out the door.

"He's been around a long time and won, and guys realize that. Listening to him is the right thing to do. He's taught us to work smarter. In the past, we'd work so hard but be out of position."

How many people tried to talk Hitchcock out of taking the first life jacket

offered after he was fired in Philadelphia in October?

"A lot. I was talking myself out of taking any job, too," admitted Hitchcock. "I went to the interview in Columbus with apprehension. I thought to myself, 'Is this what I want to do?' But, I remembered going to Dallas for the first time to coach in January, 1996. ... We were talking about trying to become a competitive franchise again there and not falling off the map and becoming an also-ran.

"What I like about Columbus is it's a tremendously focused sports town (Ohio State). When I came back from the interview, I said, 'Here's a bunch of Canadians running a franchise, so why not dig in.' "

This is a huge challenge for Hitchcock, though.

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