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March 25, 2009

Ken Hitchcock

DAVID KEON: Good afternoon, everyone. I'm David Keon of the National Hockey League's public relations department, and I'd like to welcome you to our call. Our guest today is Columbus Blue Jackets head coach, Ken Hitchcock. Thanks to Ken for taking the time to join us and answer your questions. In his third season behind the Blue Jackets bench, Ken has led Columbus to a record of 38/28/7 for 83 points, franchise records for both wins, and points.
Since the trade deadline, when they acquired Antoine Vermette, Columbus is 6/2/1, and they currently sit sixth in the Western conference with nine games remaining in the regular season as they drive for the first playoff berth in franchise history.
In 974 regular season games, Ken has compiles a 508-342-124 record and became the 13th coach in NHL history to win 500 games when the Blue Jackets defeated the Toronto Maple Leafs on February 19th.

Q. Ken, I just wanted to know, besides getting a lot of points, what has Vermette brought to your team and how does he fit in?
COACH KEN HITCHCOCK: Well, with the loss of Brassard, he has really stabilized a second line for us. I think he is a player that is well?defined offensively and defensively. He's very dependable defensively. He's done a great job killing penalties. But more than anything, he's stabilized the center ice position that we have not had since Derek got hurt.
You know, he's really helped us 5-5 and killing penalties. He's starting to get more and more responsibilities on the power play, and just from a depth standpoint, we had a hole there and Antoine was able to fill it. And the chemistry between him and Umberger, for whatever reason, has been terrific since day one.

Q. You're playing another team that was active at the deadline, Calgary Flames. What do you expect from them with Jokinen there, as opposed to facing them before?
COACH KEN HITCHCOCK: You know what, I said this to before, Calgary is a team built the right way. They are built through the middle of the ice. They are built through the goaltender, the four defensemen and the center ice position. To me the center ice position does not get near the credit it deserves, between Jokinen now, who really replaces Lombardi, Conroy, Moss, Langkow, it's a really unsung group and a group that's very much the sum of parts and they get the job done every night.So everybody talks about the key players, but to me, the stabilization of the team starts with those four centers.

Q. How tough is it to not get a little ahead of yourself? You're in sixth place but it's not like you are ten points ahead of other teams?
COACH KEN HITCHCOCK: That is a challenge every day. It's a challenge on and off the ice. To me, the biggest challenge you get as a coach is to not look back and not look ahead and keep everybody focused on the next event. And we spend no time or very little time on the game that just got played. We are on to the next game and it's like your major responsibility right now as a coach is to keep the train on the tracks, and it's everybody. You know, the players ?? any player that's in this situation really from probably our spot down right until 12th or 13th, you have to deal with these questions every day: Can you get in? Can you stay in? Are you looking ahead to your schedule? All of those questions get asked every day. As I tell the players, all we can do is our best, and focus on learning from the night before and getting ready for the next day. We try to not waste one second of energy on what just happened the night before.

Q. You coached in Dallas and you coached in Philadelphia where making the playoff s is fairly expected and now you're in a city that has never made the playoffs - inaudible?
COACH KEN HITCHCOCK: This is a city that expects winners. The background from the Ohio State football team resonates right through the city here. It's a city that expects a winning program.
And I think regardless of what happens this year, the fans understand the plan, and the attitude that Scott and his staff have put towards the short and long-term plan of the organization. And I think that there's a trust that's being built back into the city here, and our fan base, and in general, the sporting culture here, because of what Scott and his staff have done personnel-wise. They can see the way ?? they can see the disposition of the team on the ice. They can see the way we play, and I think the people in this city feel like there's an identity to this team that's not been here before.

Q. You got the 500 wins, you got the Stanley Cup, how much would the Jack Adams Trophy mean to you at this point?
COACH KEN HITCHCOCK: I don't look at that. To me, everything for me is getting back to the dance. To me, playoffs are the best time of your life. They are the best time of the year, and that's the whole focus for me is helping this team get back to the dance. The rest of the stuff, I mean, you know what I'm like. It ends up on a darn shelf somewhere or in a closet. I probably don't pay enough respect to any of that stuff like I should. But to me, the whole focus is, I just ?? the players have put so much into this season. I want to see them get the reward of getting the chance to compete in a 7?game series, and we have got a lot of work to do to get there. Like I said, our division record is probably going to determine whether we get in or not, but I would like to see that for the players, because you know, they put a lot of work into this year becoming a real good team.

Q. You hinted at possible line changes last night. Will you switch things up tomorrow?
COACH KEN HITCHCOCK: I'm going to come out and see how he plays today in Pittsburgh. There's a possibility that Williams might go there on a permanent from the start of the game up with Nash. We will see how it looks. We came through the game relatively healthy and we will have a hard look at that. Williams has really played well lately.

Q. How confident are you with the experience on your roster and competing for all intents and purposes, play or flight games for the rest of the season here?
COACH KEN HITCHCOCK: To me this is all about hunger. You can see the teams that are really hungry right now. You can see it in St. Louis and you can see it in Nashville and you can see it in us and you can see it in Anaheim now. You can see the teams that are really, really hungry right now. I really believe that it comes down to hunger, and what are the most uncomfortable things you are willing to do to help your team reach a level of success. You can see it in teams when you see them play. They play with a certain conviction at this time of year and you just know overtime that that's going to wear out the opposition. I see the teams that have it. They are on my personal radar for sure. I know how good we are going to have to play to beat some of these teams, because they are not going to go away easy. There's a certain hunger and I know there's a lot of teams in the mix right now, but there's a certain hunger in some teams you can see. You can vividly see the hunger on certain teams who want this thing really, really badly.

Q. And switching gears a little bit, how important have shootouts become over the course of the regular season, and has your approach to the shootout changed at all since it was introduced?
COACH KEN HITCHCOCK: Well, I'm backwards on that stuff, because I don't practice shootouts at all. I do it very little, and if we do it, it's mostly for fun. And I kind of ?? regardless of what the players record is, I go back and have the focus on the same five guys and those are the five guys that I use all the time, and those five guys, regardless of what they have done recently or what their shootout record; they are the guys I trust and I just go with them. Sometimes I might switch up the order a little bit, but not very often, even on that. It's worked a little bit for us this year, more than it did last year.

Q. Can you elaborate on the loss of Mr Mac and how did you feel about his loss?
COACH KEN HITCHCOCK: Mr. Mac, to me he was one of the easiest guys to get to know that I've met. He was like coaching for your grandfather, or in some cases, coaching for your dad. I think he is and was the face of the franchise. He was without a doubt in this city the face of professional hockey. He is the major reason that it's here. His legacy and his shadow is everywhere.
I found him to be a very easy man to get to know. I don't know why but we hit it off right away. He's just one of those guys that you liked being around because he wove a great story. A lot of his stuff made common sense. His whole life was built on a handshake and a nod, and I like that. He to me was a throwback to the old way, that I think in my ?? in the way that I would like to have lived. And he did everything like ?? like I said, everything was done on his word and a handshake.

Q. A few minutes ago your team announced plans that if you make the playoff, when playoff tickets are going on sale, I know it is not fait d'accompli yet, but how do you feel getting this close and how do you feel about how playoff fever might be manifesting itself around town?
COACH KEN HITCHCOCK: We have been in playoff fever for a month now, and fans have come out now in droves. I mean, the building is packed. We are into the standing room situation. The buzz in the city is unbelievable. It feels very much like any good Midwest city, whether it's Canadian or American, about sports here right now. It's the topic of conversation everywhere you go, coffee shops, sporting goods places, restaurants. It's everything. It's engulfing and it's great to see from where we were at the start of the year to where we are now. I think every player in that locker room knows that we are not even close to getting the job done because there's these big ?? there's these big barriers looming out there and starting tomorrow night that we have known for a long time that our record over the next nine games is very big.

Q. Which part or parts of your game have you been pleased with over the last few weeks that has allowed you to be slightly less reliant on outstanding goaltending every night?
COACH KEN HITCHCOCK: Well, I think our five-on-five play has been really sound all year. We knew going in, when we lost Modin Chimera and Brassard, we had to change and we just basically lost our second line. And we knew we had to change. We had to go to a much simpler game and a much more deliberate -- I would not call it direct game. And our players had to adjust quickly. We played for the lead and then we keep it by continually putting pressure on people kind of with our work. But we have really simplified our game, and I think our players have bought into that. To me that's what makes me most proud is that we were a team that had to change. It was not easy when we had all those injuries to change, but we did it. We are comfortable playing this way and if any of these players come back and help us, then it's going to be a real bonus.

Q. Your defense does not get as much attention around the League and not as many points as other teams, but do you feel it's suited to the types of games you are heading into now and a quick assessment into the two youngest guys on the blue line and how they have progressed?
COACH KEN HITCHCOCK: Methot and Russell have become a really good pair for us to see, two really nice young guys that work well together and fit in good. I think right now, we are the sum of parts back there. We support each other and are hard to play against. I think we have become much better lately because of Klesla. Him coming back in has given us four defensemen and all can move the puck pretty well and it makes the group of four hard to play against. It has allowed us to not burn out some of our guys like we were doing before. We were on the cusp of overplaying Hejda and Commodore and Tyutin, and when Klesla came in and started to take some of these big minutes, it really helped us a lot.

Q. On the intensity and competitiveness of games at this time of year?
COACH KEN HITCHCOCK: Closeness is one thing, but the games, as a fan of hockey, they are a lot of fun to watch. They are like any good first?round playoff game, you get to see three or four of these a night right now. As a fan of hockey, you get to see players making sacrifices and great plays and a sense of urgency. It's incredible. If you are a fan of hockey and you are coming to watch games, you are getting every nickel's worth of what's going on right now. The interesting part for me right now is the teams that are on the outside are swallowed up by this, too. There is not any team going away quietly right now, and I think that it's made for really good hockey. Some of the teams, you look at the way Atlanta is playing right now and Tampa played hard yesterday, some of the way these teams are playing, they played hard right to the end. They have younger players who are trying to impress the coach and manager, and they are playing like it's their playoffs, too, and it's made for unbelievable hockey.

Q. When it gets down to this point in the season, are you happy you played teams in the same boat as you or would you rather be playing teams that are out of it?
COACH KEN HITCHCOCK: No, I would rather play teams that are right with us. I would much rather play teams who have as much at stake as we do. I feel more pressure. In Florida, when we went down and played those teams, I had not felt pressure playing those two teams in a long time and they have as much at stake as we do.

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