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June 4, 2000

Ken Hitchcock

DALLAS, TEXAS: Practice Day

Q. You put Jere with Nieuwendyk late in the game, obviously to generate some offense. Do you feel maybe with Jere playing the way it is, that that needs to be a combination you go with?

COACH HITCHCOCK: I think it depends on Jamie tomorrow. Jamie looks like he is playing tomorrow. So things -- things change significantly now.

Q. Coach, today's paper, local paper said your team has been outplayed, that the Devils are the better team, personnel, and team looks like it has been written off in your local paper. I'd like your comment. Are the Devils playing better?

COACH HITCHCOCK: I think the series 2-1 is exactly where it deserves to be. I think that they were better for more minutes yesterday. We were great for about 30 minutes, but they were better in a significant area of the game where -- I thought after they scored their first goal and, really, until the last six, seven minutes of the third period, they were much better than we were yesterday. I think they deserve to be up 2-to-1 right now.

Q. It also said that your team is tired from last year and that you guys are just worn out. Is that part of it?

COACH HITCHCOCK: No, they are probably tired of covering this. They want to get on with the Cowboys. (Laughter.)

Q. You don't buy that?

COACH HITCHCOCK: No. You know, I think -- I heard the same stuff said about Toronto. And then you heard the same stuff said about Philadelphia. Jersey has got a great team. They have got a lot of good things going for them, but so do we. And some of the things that came out for us in Game 2 and at the start of Game 3 are the qualities of our team that we want to see. I thought the qualities of New Jersey came out after they scored their second goal or their first goal, and it frustrated us. I think that both teams have been able to control the other team's frustration level, and I think that is what has controlled this series a little bit in Jersey's favor is that when they -- they were prepared to play patient and strong defensive hockey even though the game was 1-1, and we were trying to push the issue too much and got burnt because of it. And I think that they have a lot of confidence in their ability and in their depth. And I thought yesterday in the second period and at the start of the third they used it wisely. But I also think that we have a gear that we have learned to play at that now has to come out. But we have shown the ability for the last three years to throw that gear out, and it has to come now, and pretty sure you are going to see it.

Q. How much of Nieuwendyk's problem is his line mates and how much is it him?

COACH HITCHCOCK: Well, I think that -- Joe is like any other scorer, and he is a lot -- like in our case, like Brett Hull. When you are a scorer and you are scoring, it seems that every part of your game is energized. Joe is a perfect example. He is a streaky player. And if he scores early, like he did at times during the last two series, then he is a very effective player for that game and for the next few games. But when you don't score, you start thinking too much. I find that with great offensive players and great scorers, when they start thinking, that is when they are at their worst. Nieuwendyk's problem also is he has kind of been put in a situation -- he had the lack of benefit of not only himself playing, missing half the year, but we have only had that line together for probably 15 or 16 games with him and Jamie. It has been a very good line for us, but they haven't played together very much. So it is hard to look at. There has been obviously times during this Playoffs that they haven't been together either. I think that for Joe, he is a little bit like the rest of our team. New Jersey forces you to dig in a little bit deeper than sometimes you even want to. For offensive chances, they make you pay a healthy price to get in those areas to score. At the end of the day, you are going to have to decide whether the Cup and the accolades that go with it is worth it. That is why I say our team knows the competition; we know the gear that has to be moved to. Whether we can do it or not, time will tell, but it is available for us.

Q. To follow up, though, how much has Joe missed Jamie? Is it a valid excuse?

COACH HITCHCOCK: I don't know. This is a game about adjustments. We have learned about -- learned to play without people all year. I think it is less about that and more going into the critical areas to score. I think that all of us -- Joe included, Mike, Brett -- you are not going to score from a distance against this team. You are going to have to get into gritty areas to score, and that's really bottom line. And Joe knows that. I think the thing that we'd like to see more from Joe is the fact that he doesn't play the score. He plays the game. If you look at Nieuwendyk at the end of the game, he is front and center. He has got chances. He's one of the best players on the ice. The game is on the line, but we'd like to see him dictate that tempo early. He has done that at critical stages in series. But sometimes in the series, these games haven't happened 'til Game 5, or sometimes even Game 6. We need it now. This is Game 4 tomorrow, and we need it now.

Q. You guys are, the last two years, are 9 and 0 in the game after a Playoff loss. But I wondered, judging by your team's mood last night, they seemed more down after this loss than they were after Game 1. How hard is it going to be to find that extra gear after what seemed to be --

COACH HITCHCOCK: I don't know about down. I think we were frustrated. I think that we were frustrated, because I think that we felt that we got done in like a lot of other teams did against Jersey. We got split up a little bit. We didn't stay as a unit of 5. We didn't stay with that pack mentality that is our quality. They broke us up a little bit, and so that was what was very frustrating for us is that we allowed their defensive tenacity to break us up, and we can't do that. It is an easy thing to say and hard thing to do, but if you are going to win at the end of the day, you have got to be able to do it. That was more of the frustration in us than it was discouragement. I think today we are just pissed off, which is okay. As long as we are pissed off at the right people.

Q. If Jamie is cleared to play how much can he really add and how much will he play having missed so much time?

COACH HITCHCOCK: Well, he is, again, a really unique player, a lot like Lehtinen with conditioning level. Any time you can bring a 16-, 17-, 18-minute player back in your lineup it is going to make you more effective. Whether I play him with Nieuwendyk or not at the start we will see, but just having him in the lineup, it's a good addition for us.

Q. Mike Modano seemed excited about playing against the Arnott line in Game 2. Then especially seemed very disappointed that he didn't get that challenge again yesterday. Did he express that disappointment to you or ....

COACH HITCHCOCK: I think that was kind of initial response. We saw something; unfortunately so did Larry with the matchup and that is why that one line didn't play very much last night because he saw the matchup that was big time to our advantage and he pulled the line off the ice all the time and made Mo play against a different group, but we had a matchup that we saw that we needed to take advantage of. I don't think it is any secret right now that we have got one line that is obviously concerning Jersey and they are doing everything they can to break even with that line, but we have got that line and it is up and running, it is doing a great job. We need more from more players for us to win this series. But I think right now we saw a matchup that was really to our advantage and we wanted to take advantage of it every shift we could. And we did. That is where a lot of our scoring chances, when you look at the scoring chances this morning it is pretty much one line getting them all and it is pretty much another line that they are getting them against. If I get that matchup tomorrow we are going to have the same attitude, we have got to try and break even against Arnott. Arnott scored his first goal, it was a broken stick play; Matty had to go to the bench because he didn't have a hockey stick, and Jason made a great play to split the two "D"s to get in there. Sykora's chance was on a powerplay. A lot of their shots, quite frankly, except for two by Elias were distant shots. We did do the job from a creating scoring chances against the line that we wanted to create them against, but we need more push from the people underneath that line.

Q. You said earlier -- we know the gear that we have to put it into in order to achieve success. Simple approach will be then put it into the gear; why isn't it that simple?

COACH HITCHCOCK: Because first of all, the opposition is playing great too, No. 1. No. 2 is that this gear is total sacrifice where you give up everything. You give up every part of your body to play at this gear. We have had to do it five or six times late in the series. That is why we have won those series. We did it against Colorado. It is physically hard, damaging at times, but it is a gear that when you have learned to win, you have learned to sacrifice that has to be made; you have got to go and do it. Against this team we talked about it today, this is a team with a very steely exterior and interior. They are as determined as we are. And I think for us to wait and to try to put that gear in plays the blitz, not going to work. We got to go now. That is why we are doing it.

Q. Two-part question. First, Jamie, is that a decision tomorrow or is that--

COACH HITCHCOCK: It is a decision tomorrow. But right now we are leaning towards it - he is in.

Q. Back to your last analogy, isn't part of the problem why you see fluctuations from game to game with your team, that the total commitment it takes to play the system you play, the players aren't willing or physically able to give it every game?

COACH HITCHCOCK: I don't know about "Not willing." I think that it's a physical demand the way we have to play to win. I think that the same demands are being placed by Larry on his team and that is why these two teams are here because these are the two teams, quite frankly, over the last three or four years have been the best teams. You look at the points; you look at the ways these teams have gone at it during the regular season; look at where we are at today, the two teams playing, these are teams that have made big sacrifices physically and mentally. We know that next gear; whether we are capable of getting there, physically, I don't know. But mentally we are. And we got to go there.

Q. How much is Jamie's availability -- (inaudible) he is medically that much better as opposed to doing -- (inaudible) pretty big predicament; he could give you an emotional boost as well?

COACH HITCHCOCK: I would say it is pretty much on that big predicament side. We are not in a hole; we are in a little bit of a ditch right now, so we need to get out of this ditch.

Q. You are great Civil War buff, but how would you characterize this series in Civil War terms?

COACH HITCHCOCK: Hope like hell it isn't pickets charge (sic) that we are running here. It is just -- it is really almost hand-to-hand combat. It is great. You see the passion that both teams are playing with and I know that at times everybody says that it isn't -- doesn't have the flow of some of the games, but man, there is some big bodies getting whacked out there pretty hard and some of the little guys like you watch Hatcher goes across the ice to hit Mogilny; he stands up to it; Brylin gets smothered. We had some of our guys get rattled, pretty hard physical play out there, it is huge. I think the energy out there -- I looked at their bench and I looked at their players after Game 2 and they were exhausted. And I looked at our bench and our players at the end of Game 3, with what we had to put into it at the end we were exhausted. I think both teams have put an awful lot into this and there is more to put into it. But if you just look at it from an energy, intensity standpoint, it is incredible because both -- when you see two teams as committed defensively as these groups are, I think there is an admiration that goes from the coaches towards both teams.

Q. You talked about your team (inaudible) have you ever looked at your hockey club in the last two years after a loss that they may not have what it takes to come back --

COACH HITCHCOCK: That is not an option.

Q. What have you thought of Zubov so far? Maybe that pair, in particular?

COACH HITCHCOCK: I think the changes that we made with the puck after Game 1 have really helped him. I think that this is more, as he said it, this is the way hockey should be played. The way that he is playing right now, I mean, he is finding open people and he's making plays that to the untrained eye you don't take notice, but to somebody that knows the game and understands the game, he does things similar to what Niedermayer does. They seem to be able to find people when they are under siege, they seem to be finding open people. I think those two guys are having a lot of fun in this series because when you are as committed with one forecheck as both teams are, it means that people like Zubov and Niedermayer are going to have to handle the puck a lot. And I think they are both having a good time with it.

Q. Last series Colorado you are in pretty much the same predicament. A lot of people were writing you off. Looking back at Game 4, was that the turning point of that series?

COACH HITCHCOCK: I thought it was. I thought that we had to make a stand and we did. Our goalie made the biggest stand, but we had to -- had to make it and that is that gear I am talking about. I mean, whether we have the game to go with the gear, time will tell on that. I will be able to tell all you folks in a week whether we had that game, but we got the knowledge and that is a big factor right now for us. We have got to put that knowledge and that passion into play early now. We have to do it now.

Q. You mentioned Niedermayer earlier. Can you comment on what he was like when you coached him as a junior; did you foresee this ---

COACH HITCHCOCK: Well, he was the toughest sell (sic) I have had in junior. I know that route from Kamloops to Kambrook (phonetic) from the back of my hand. I made it about 12 times. I think that he was a player that was high risk, but fun to coach and we are probably the ones that screwed him up the worst because I am sure Jacques when he first got him blames me for most of the way he plays because we just turned him loose. If he wanted to forecheck, that is fine; backchecking was okay; playing defense was all right, but as long as he just kept skating with the puck that is what we wanted and I think he's doing that now, which is really, really unfortunate. I wish I had never seen him.

Q. The other day Larry Robinson confessed that he had made a mistake in Game 2 didn't play Mogilny enough. What mistake or mistakes would you say you made as a coach?

COACH HITCHCOCK: Today? Yesterday? Or?

Q. This series.

COACH HITCHCOCK: I think, you know, if I look back at the first three games, I think that the first game we felt pretty confident that we could do the same things -- we assumed that we were playing a team similar to Colorado and I think our assumption after the first game was wrong. We were playing a team that plays similar to St. Louis. We had to make some tactical adjustments to our game that I wished we would have made before Game 1. We didn't have very much time. We didn't really have hockey practice, but we should have looked at it a little closer in that avenue. We made those -- we are grateful our team was able to do that stuff quickly, but we assumed it was Colorado and we wanted to move the puck versus their checking scheme, but it was St. Louis and they bumped us pretty badly with some of the stuff they did.

Q. Last game, any mistakes?

COACH HITCHCOCK: I think the one thing I would like to have back is to try to find a way after they scored their first goal to get physical energy back in the game. I think we looked -- I think we got discouraged because we played so well and then the game was still tied and I think starting that second period we would have liked to have gotten that physical energy on to the ice rather than get in that prevent situation that we were in. I think we fell right into what they were doing. We were trying to hold on to that 1-1 and win it late and we should have gone after it and got it like we did in the first period. I think we forced the issue and we created some penalty and some powerplays for ourself by forcing the issue and I'd think we got too laid back there and they got too many people to come at you that way.

Q. If not Mike against Arnott's line, who? Has Joe and the lack of production from the bottom three lines forced you to change what you wanted to do defensively against that line?

COACH HITCHCOCK: I don't think -- I don't think it is the lack of production. I think it is more -- when you have a line that is playing as well as Modano's line is right now, one thing that you want to do is be able to build momentum from that line's production. What we need is we need more lines to come sweeping up behind and build us minutes of momentum. We had -- if you look at the third period in Game 2, once Modano's line started to get a bite into the third period and then Nieuwendyk's line came alive, we started to build real minutes into solid play. We haven't been able to do that consistently in this series. We haven't had the follow-up on a consistent basis. I thought we did a little bit when we took and put Sim and Lehtinen with Nieuwendyk. We started to build some minutes into our play where we were forcing the issue a little bit better. But unless you get that follow-up behind a good line, all you are doing is just really rotating until you get back into that line again and I think that that -- I think that has been a big difference in this series. They have been able to follow-up one good line's play with another line's play and then they have been able to build momentum. We have had a more difficult time with that.

Q. You talked -- (inaudible) what about the two in the second period where Hull got the interference and Cote got the elbow, what did you think of those two calls?

COACH HITCHCOCK: Hull's call was not great. He was just at that point dancing out of the way and ran into somebody. Cote's was retaliation, can't have it. It is -- this time of year you can't have it. If you are going to have an action -- he got a stick in the head, but that was an action call and those things don't get called at this time of the year. The reaction does and can't have it.

Q. How do you walk a fine line if you need to get energy back up and yet you still need to do a little bit of coaching how do you walk the fine line on these off days not having them practice, how important will the two-day break be after Game 4?

COACH HITCHCOCK: I don't like that two-day break because if you are the losing team it gives you a lot of time to think about things and I find you overthink things. I think right now the series is -- the series -- nobody is going to change their tactics. We have made the tactical adjustments that needed to be made from our own game and now it is all about passion and energy. The rest of the stuff is little things that you do, but my job right now is to keep the energy and enthusiasm up and keep us reved up. Like I said, we have that knowledge. We know what it takes and my job is to give us as much energy to get that job done. Our players really believe they can get the job done. They know how hard it is going to be, but they are willing to go that distance right now so we will see where it goes.

Q. Talking specifically about Jason Arnott, what differences do you see in his game, if any?

COACH HITCHCOCK: He was a typical Oiler player when he was there. All reved up, 100 miles an hour, full court press, sometimes going the extra distance to make the hits. The end of his career he was very frustrated there. That darn Edmonton press got all over him there, you know, bad guys. He just -- he wore that pressure poorly. Now he is free. You read what he says. He likes the anonymous lifestyle of living in Jersey and he is just a hockey player and what he has done, I think he has become a positional hockey player and with that size he is hard to work through. I think he has used his size to his advantage better defensively now than he did before. I think a lot of times when he was in Edmonton the games started and ended with the puck, but he is a strong positional player now and with that size he is a very effective guy.

Q. Can you give example of how valuable Jere is and on that first line with Modano, do you not want to break that up, depending on --

COACH HITCHCOCK: We use Lehtinen as a catalyst when anybody is not going well, we just put him with Lehtinen. So if I am having a bad day, Lehtinen comes for coffee with me or (Laughter.) You know, if we need Nieuwendyk to get rolling then that is where we put Jere, whatever. I think we use him as a catalyst. I think we are at a stage right now where how well Brendan Morrow is playing and how effective that he is that we have got a luxury that a lot of teams don't have and that is that we can throw Brendan up there and he's a very effective guy and if we need some underneath support from Modano line, then we can use it from there, but Lehtinen is the catalyst for that type of performance.

Q. Talking about qualities earlier, is your team's best quality (inaudible) how important will that quality be?

COACH HITCHCOCK: I don't know about that hard of a chance. I think people talk about that. I think you have to look, when you get this level and you have been here for two, three years at this level the knowledge you have can either be a negative or positive. If you can't get over the hump, then it becomes a negative because you never know that emotional passionate commitment you have to make. We were able to get over that hump and we know what it is like; we know the feeling. It is a feeling that you have. It is a feeling where the mind takes over from the body. The body becomes irrelevant. Our players know that feeling and we feel like we can go to that. It is an awful hard way to have to play. But not much time left in this season and we just feel like our group feels pretty passionate that this opposition is as strong as anybody we have ever seen in our lives and we are going to have to go there now.

Q. Getting back to the Civil War, are you defending Atlanta?

COACH HITCHCOCK: You mean is it burning? I prefer to think we are on the -- on that march to Savannah. I don't know where we are at. To me it is 2-1. We win tomorrow and all you people are telling us how great we are. I can tell you one thing, from our standpoint we feel like we have been outplayed for more minutes than we have outplayed them and I think that we feel right now that we have got an opposition that is as determined as we are. They are doing it -- they are doing to us what we'd like to do to them. It is going to be really get down to that battle one-on-one space and we are at that level now where I think you are going to find the passions of this series even get higher and higher and higher. If they are a goal better than us like they are right now, then my hat is off to them but we can go another level passion-wise.

Q. Isn't that (inaudible) --

COACH HITCHCOCK: Like I say we are marching to Savannah right now.

Q. What was the -- what went into your decision yesterday, Modano on the front-line, what was going on there?

COACH HITCHCOCK: I was just trying to get him to run Brodeur, no big deal (Laughter.)

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