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June 14, 1999

Ken Hitchcock


Q. One question I wanted to ask: With an older team, shorter shifts are a big part of the game plan, seemed like that was one of the things in Game 3 that was evident. Your team was fresher; looked younger in a lot of ways than Buffalo....

KEN HITCHCOCK: Well, we sure didn't feel younger after the game, but I think our philosophy has always been to really shorten things up in the third period. I think if you look at the third period there is a dramatic difference in the time on ice. It is kind of our attitude that we don't like to have our players come to the bench tired in the third period because we find that when you start rolling and the game gets energized, the next shift out you are not able to perform so we ask the players to come with something left in the tank and they have been able to do that.

Q. Why did you decide to move Sydor up from defense to forward on that line instead of putting another forward there and were you the person that changed Sydor from a winger to defensemen back in Junior?

KEN HITCHCOCK: Yeah, I was the guy that screwed that up. And, I don't know, we are kind of having tryouts. I don't know, if Hrkac is good or Plante, I don't know, we really haven't decided yet. Hogue is obviously in the mix now and that would dramatically affect everything. We have had real success with Sydor and Keane up there. Mo and Jere really like playing with Hrkac so we have got some options there. But Sydor gives us a line that is not anything -- that's really similar to the same as Nieuwendyk's line where you have got some real powerful people down low, Sydor is another -- would be classified as a big forward because he is over a 200-pound player. So I think from our standpoint he probably would have the biggest impact from a physical standpoint. We might be leaning that way right now.

Q. Can you clear up -- Brett Hull was just in here and he said he hadn't talked to you yet about his status and he led us to believe that if he feels okay tomorrow, he may be ready to go. Can you update what you said yesterday about him being doubtful?

KEN HITCHCOCK: I haven't talked to him and again, I kind of wait to the end of the day like tonight and let the trainers come and say, look, this is where these players are at, to be honest, but I still think he is doubtful. I think that, you know, he certainly looks like he is now going to be a player back in the series again which is good. But I don't think that there is enough of soreness out of that area. I am trying to be up front here, that I just don't see that he is going to be ready. I mean, I think he is like everybody else. We are all hopeful that he is ready, but I think in realistic terms that we might be doing a lot more further damage than anticipated if we do put him in there and I don't think we can afford to take that chance right now.

Q. A lot of the credit for your team's ability to shut down Buffalo's offense, particularly Satan, I think can be given to Derian Hatcher and Richard Matvichuk. Can you talk about the importance of them to your team?

KEN HITCHCOCK: Well, I think that those two guys have a definitive role and we don't -- we haven't really -- we have played them a lot against -- the focus, to be honest with you, has not been Satan. It has been Brown. We felt just leaving the Toronto series that Brown is a good player. So he would be the start of the focus. But we were also prepared to move anywhere, if Peca became a good player. Sanderson had some great shifts early in the game; they are just our shut-down pair and whoever is going well that night we move off lines all the time. For instance, in the last series they played a lot against Forsberg and then Fleury and Sakic had a big bite at times and we had to go back with them against that. We try to take the best offensive people and play them against those type of people and that is all we focus on. If it happens to be Peca's group tomorrow then we will switch off right away and play him against Peca. That is sort of the focus. That is the mental focus that those two need to perform. They need to know who they are playing against most nights, so that they can perform at a higher level.

Q. How did you come up with the plan to deliberately throw us off track by telling the truth about Modano's injury?

KEN HITCHCOCK: I told somebody today you are never going to get the exact area of the injury from me. I do that to protect the player and the team. There is players on both teams, they might be telling you it's an ankle, and it might be a knee or it might be a knee and it might be a groin, you don't know those things because I don't think that -- we do that, in particular, to protect the player. For example, Modano's was -- what was it, his right wrist? No, left. (LAUGHTER). Modano's situation was the only reason that it was disclosed was because it was all over television and Mike kept yapping about it. Our situation was that we wouldn't have disclosed what it was injury wise except that everybody saw what it was. But time-wise I think in fairness to our team and in fairness to you people, we have got to be up front whether the guy is a player. That is why we have said, for instance with Hull, he is doubtful. That is the way he is right now. I think that these guessing games, they might be fun at times, but they do jerk around you people. But you know what? They jerk around our team too because we read the papers and I think it is more important that our players know definitively who is in or out and the next morning with Modano, we had no doubt that he was a player. When he was coming to the airplane to come to Buffalo there was no doubt in our mind that he was a player. That is the way that we stated it. I don't think there is any doubt in our mind right now that Brett is not a player tomorrow. We have still got that view that he might come in, but we are preparing that he is not the same as we are without Marshall too.

Q. Any reason on Mike Keane not skating today?

KEN HITCHCOCK: Yeah, Keane has -- we played him a lot of minutes in the last two games and we just felt that he is a smaller player, and that it was more important right now that he has been at his best when we have been able to give him either two full days off or a day off with a pre-game skate off. So he wanted to skate tomorrow. We gave him the option of skating once, which we will do with Carbonneau, same thing, and when you look at minutes played, him and Carbonneau played as many minutes or more than Modano so we gave him the option and he opted to skate tomorrow rather than today.

Q. Hull is an intriguing personality, I am sure you probably found that out in about five seconds. Is it possible to have a coach to have a real sound relationship with him or he is too much his own person; too much of a free spirit?

KEN HITCHCOCK: No, I think -- what gets involved with player relationships with people like Hull is egos. I think as coaches we have egos and players have egos. I learned a lot. I coached a player named Rob Brown in Junior and we had a difficult relationship when we first started - very difficult. There was a lot of conflict and there was a lot of territorial play between the two of us. Rob Brown is a very good friend of mine now; even though he plays in the League, we are very good friends. We learned to develop a relationship of give and take. It is the same thing with Brett Hull. He sees the game differently than coaches see it. He sees it as a game of finding space rather than creating space, which is different than you coach. You don't coach like that. That is a different mentality. It is like a mid-fielder in soccer. There is a different mentality that he has for the game. But the rules are -- if you can find a compromise then you can work with people like Hull. The compromise was I basically work with Brett and said, look, you do what you want to do with the puck. You go where you want to go, you make the plays you want to play and you won't find criticism from me. But without the puck, you got to play the way we play. That means you got to be physical. That means you got to be aggressive, and I will tell you what these Playoffs he has played very well, but this has been a real eye-opener for him because it has been a physical grind on a 34 year old. And when you are not used to playing physical hockey and in small spaces like we are asking him to without the puck, it takes the toll. I know one thing, next year, regardless of how he finishes this year, next year, mentally and physically he is going to be better prepared for the way we play without the puck. But whatever he does with the puck, is fine with me. That was the compromise I had with Brown because Brown used to drive me nuts all over -- morning, noon, and night, away from the rink, everywhere. It became a game after a while. Hull can do that with you because you never know when the bomb is going to drop with him. I think from my standpoint we have learned to work together.

Q. You mean he says whatever he wants by the bomb (inaudible) --

KEN HITCHCOCK: No, because I think as long as you are prepared and your feet are on the ground and here comes the bomb, he sometimes gives me a wave and says: I just dropped one and get ready. (LAUGHTER). I think from my standpoint I am ready for it now. I think that also there is a difference -- the players now, they are a lot different. The personality -- it is like you can't -- you got to learn to differentiate between personality and performance. Without people like Hull this is a very dull game at times. He gets everything reved up pretty good. And his opinions are his way of communicating. He just blows them out there and sees what sticks and then, you know, we kind of clean up the mess.

Q. The Nieuwendyk shot for the winner the other night, you don't see a lot of guys roof it from inside anymore. It is almost like that has gone the way of the hip check. Do you agree with that, first of all, and is it something you ask guys to practice, shots from in tight, lift up, go close?

KEN HITCHCOCK: I think we haven't spent as much detailed time on it as we did in the last series. We spent a tremendous amount of time with Patrick on doing -- we had -- everyday we worked on three drills the same in the Colorado series. The goals that Langenbrunner and Reid scored were a lot because we had that focus. I think that Nieuwendyk recognizes that the weakness of a goaltender and what he does better than anybody is -- I think you can practice that all day with every player and there is only a handful of players on each team that can do it because to me, I think in most cases, players get into that position and they panic. When you panic, your hands become like stone and it is hard to make that feather replay because that is a light play that is very difficult to do. I think that you look at a player like Fleury or you look at a player like Sakic or like Nieuwendyk, those players, those players are able to be very calm in very intense situations. Like the goal that he scored to be able to pull it back and put it there, is incredible. We have had people in the same position and never just whacking it off the pads and it is bouncing back and then they are giving it back again. A lot of it is because they are not comfortable and composed in that area and I think there are very few players that are.

Q. Benoit was back in practice. Talk about how that fits in your plans or does he or doesn't?

KEN HITCHCOCK: Yeah, he fits in now. Hogue is going to take -- I think the best way to do it with him is that he is going to do -- move ahead under normal progress. We recognize this is a short timeframe for him. He is probably going to be in the pre-game warmup tomorrow; then we will be able to evaluate from there. Now a little bit of it is mental. But his injury has been the same as Matvichuk's. He feels strong and he feels good and if he continues to progress like he is, and continues to move ahead then I see no reason that Benny is not a player in Game 4 or 5. We are really hopeful for that. That is a huge boost for us because he was such a good player before he got hurt and if he is in that position and he feels good tomorrow morning and feels like he can take more on, then we would like to give it to him and continue to move him ahead.

Q. Tomorrow night you don't have the luxury of a travel day and another game day. Do you think that will limit your attempt to block a lot of shots tomorrow night?

KEN HITCHCOCK: I think psychologically and Buffalo said it that -- I think our players have already discussed that matter and I mean -- what I mean by this is that we were in this state in Colorado the last series, we are up 2-1 playing Game 4, the game we lost in overtime, and our players -- we talked about it with our players today, we felt we did not make enough physical and mental sacrifices in that game. It is wonderful game, great game but our players felt at the end of the game that we didn't sacrifice enough, we didn't pay the big enough price and that is already been discussed. If blocking shots are part of it then we want to do whatever we can. We feel like we owe ourselves a tremendous performance in Game 4 because we felt like we let ourselves down a little bit in that game in Colorado and we got behind early in the game; then we came back, but we still weren't playing with that sacrifice in mind and I think we want to be able to do that tomorrow.

Q. When you said you told Hull to go where he wants to go; is that the same as "Do what you want to do?"

KEN HITCHCOCK: I think -- what I don't want to do with people like Hull and Modano is take away creativity. There is some critical areas on the ice that we tell the players to get pucks into behind defensemen. If you can skate it behind, great, if you can carry it and get it behind him, but if you have to dump it, then you have to dump it. But the idea is that there are critical areas on the ice that we view, for instance, the offensive blue line that we are saying put the puck behind anyway you can. But what we are telling people like Brett Hull is, look, if you are not a guy that goes to the net and you want to be a trailer then you are trailer. If you want to be up higher in the zone rather than in the deep slot, that is your call. If you want to be in a position offensively where you are behind the net and below the puck, and we have got it, that is your call. But as soon as it gets turned over, or as soon as it is up for grabs, as soon as that puck is 50/50 that is not his call; that is our call. That is the team's call and he has to do the things that the team needs done when we don't have full possession.

Q. Mike Peca is, I think, the emotional barometer to this team. He played so well in the first series against Yashen; then against Sundine. When you go into this series you want to take him out of the game -- I mean, as he goes off and that is how the Sabres go, I guess it is that way with a lot of captains, but if you can take him out of game then maybe the rest of the team drops off a little?

KEN HITCHCOCK: I don't know that we -- I don't know that our view is that. I think our view on leaders and good players like Peca is that we don't want to allow their best players to control the tempo, whether it is a scoring tempo, the physical tempo, the mental tempo, whatever a player like say Peca has, we don't want to allow that type of player to control the game. We look at him as not only the emotionally or -- but we look at him as a dangerous player. He plays physical. He can score. He can do a number of things. So our view is that we want to keep him away from our net as much as possible. He is one of the best players in the League at finding the open space like he did in Game 2 on that powerplay goal. We view him as a dangerous offensive player and that we need to keep him away from our net as much as possible.

End of FastScripts....

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