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May 11, 2004

Ken Hitchcock


KEN HITCHCOCK: First of all, if you guys are betting on the Preakness, don't even put place-and-show on Smarty; just put all the money on the win. I don't think there's any doubt he's going to win the race.
Q. You have some inside information?
KEN HITCHCOCK: Yes. I talk to horses a lot. Sometimes the wrong end (LAUGHTER).
Q. How much fun is this for you being back to this point where it's been a few years since you have been there?
KEN HITCHCOCK: Well, I think we went through a stretch there from 1998 to 2000 where you are so used to either being in a Conference Final or the Cup Final, you just think it's the natural progression of where you should go to. And then you realize after a while how difficult it is to get there. So I think you really appreciate the fact that you know, there's a lot of things that have to go into the right place for you to get to this level. There's a lot of good teams now. It's changed so much. You could -- when we were on the run there in Dallas you knew within one team who was going to be there. Now don't. Now you are talking about eight teams who legitimately think they can win and so I think any time you get to a Conference Final, you have had a heck of a year.
Q. Besides winning the game last night, the day after, what do you feel like you have accomplished at this point getting, the series back 1-1, and the way you won last night?
KEN HITCHCOCK: Well, I think we are -- we did some things in both games that we need to continue to do.
We carried the play at the start of the hockey game. The difference in the two games quite frankly was that we were able to score on our odd-man rushes in Game 2 and we didn't score in Game 1. But we still, in both games, although we ran out of energy in the last five minutes of the second period in Game 1 and the third, we still did an awful lot of things really well in both games. So if we can continue to build on that, those are good things. But I really think the only difference quite frankly, was that we were able to score on our odd-man rushes and our opportunities because of that. We're playing pretty well. To be honest with you we're playing pretty well.
Q. Do you think the nature of the win might have put some doubt in their minds?
KEN HITCHCOCK: I don't think -- I don't think that happens with the young teams per se. When you got younger players, the impact players, I don't think that bothers them. I think you are able to write things off. I am sure the coaches are talking the same thing, you know, everybody has a tough loss in Playoffs.
I think it's much harder to recover from a tough overtime loss. I think there's a lot more work that has to go in place there because I think that there's that physical fear of going there again when you lose hard overtime games. Whereas, if you get blown out or you played poorly and lose, it's much easier to write it off and just move on and you know, you are so excited to get to the rink and prove yourself again, you don't worry about those things. But boy, when you lose in double overtime or triple overtime, it's a hard ball to hard ball to swallow.
Q. Why would you believe that a young team would have --
KEN HITCHCOCK: Because I think you are just happy to be there. You are not worried about -- you don't know the consequences yet. You don't understand the consequences yet. You are just happy to be there. So you just keep going.
Q. As a coaching staff how important is it for you guys after a performance like last night that you haven't lost a game at home, how important is it for you, the other side to prevent from overconfidence in your team going on playing like you did?
KEN HITCHCOCK: I don't think playing Tampa at any time you can get overconfident because I think you are always on edge because they got people who can score, more than two or three players, they got six or seven people who can legitimately score so you are always -- your awareness is always there. They have got defensemen who can score, so you are always on edge. You always have to be sharp mentally on the ice.
This is a series that if you just drift, even during a shift, if you drift and get caught out of position you can get burnt by both teams. I think just the -- almost the fear of what they can do when they get offensive opportunities, keeps you sharp. So I said this before, we probably are going to have to win road games. We're going to have to win road games to win in the Playoffs. What we have done is we have kind of pulled home ice and now the wall is in our court. If we can keep it or not.
But we got a lot of work ahead of ourselves if we expect to keep it.
Q. Khabibulin's reputation of having a fragile psyche; do you think one game like last night could tap into his invincibility feeling?
KEN HITCHCOCK: I don't really know him that well, but I don't know at this time of year where -- whether you can think even about that. I think sometimes in the regular season you get into negative spin in your game. Whether you are a forward defensemen or goalie, sometimes you have to bottom out. But I don't think that happens in the Playoffs very often. I think it's more about your team game. I think, like I said, we had a lot of odd-man rushes yesterday and you know, I think that's more team-related than it is goaltender related.
Q. Resilience of this team, did you in any way see last night coming on Sunday, the players didn't skate but did you see last night's outburst coming from this team?
KEN HITCHCOCK: I don't know about the outburst but I saw the game that we played coming. I saw it for -- you know, you don't want to make excuses, but we powered a lot into Game 1 but we didn't have anything in the tank based on what had happened three days before. The tank was dry and so we didn't have the lead and we ended up having to chase the game and that was even more exhausting, but I just felt that given the time to rest and knowing how we were playing that we could just build more minutes on, which is exactly what we did. We didn't play for 30. We played really hard for 45 or almost 50 minutes, but you could see that coming and you know, a lot of it was because we were able to rest for a day and a half or almost two days and then play again.
Q. You said that during the regular season maybe you weren't ready for the tempo of the game down there, those games are pretty decisive. But up here, you played them for overtime I think in a one-goal game. Was that not the case up here that you were able to, you know, you had a better idea of the tempo?
KEN HITCHCOCK: The two games that we played up here, the 5-4 four-game we had a ton of shots and a ton of chances. The 2-1 game was probably, until Eschey got hurt, was our best game in probably three weeks. He got hurt and they happened to be on a powerplay a 5 on 3 and scored. That kind of turned the momentum a bit. But we played better defensively up here than we did down there. And that helped us a lot. Esche was the name before.
We have a lot of confidence playing at home right now. A lot of confidence. Whether we can establish our game like we did at the start of both games one and two, I don't know. I am sure they are going to have a lot of resolve too, wanting to take home ice back. We have played pretty well all Playoffs at home and we got to build on that confidence.
Q. Do you think the players found something last night, maybe that they didn't know about, you know, in all the games prior, the four regular season, first game, some things that maybe they can do that they didn't know?
KEN HITCHCOCK: Well, I think when you lose -- when you score one goal, 2 and 1 in three games down there you have to make some changes. You can't sit there and say, well, if we could have this might happen. You can't live on that. You have to make changes. So we did make some changes. Our thought process changed a little bit. The addition of Kapanen and bringing more from the back end playing a little bit more of a riskier game, we had to go and take more risks to have the reward there. We couldn't continue to play the same way we were, because we weren't getting enough goals to win the hockey games.
Q. Are you able to do that more with this team than you were with the Dallas teams adjusting between Playoff games?
KEN HITCHCOCK: No, I think it's -- you know, it's easy for me to talk and say, okay, we need to do this, but if I leave the room and it's not being sold within the room, I have no impact on what happens on the ice because I am just -- I am selling to somebody that's not buying. But this is a group that buys and they buy well.
Q. More so than --
KEN HITCHCOCK: I think about the same. I think it's a group that believes in each other, but it also believes in the coaching staff. It's a group that very much believes that we can help them make adjustment. But they are responsible, Sam, for the commitment. I mean, we have put that in place for all year, but our team is able to adapt and adjust midstream.
Q. Why I ask that, you didn't have a brand name so to speak to sell to, you were not Ken Hitchcock, Stanley Cup Champion. You are, here. I wonder if they buy -- they buy well, but I wonder if your sales pitch doesn't have to be as strong?
KEN HITCHCOCK: No, you have got to remember there were seven players that were with me in Kalamazoo. Seven players that had come through the program that were selling things to establish players in there. I also had a general manager there who was very emphatic that it was the coach's way or the highway. So there was establishment there from two fronts. I was able to do those things and what really helped sell it, to be very honest with you, in Dallas, was losing to the Oilers in Game 7 in overtime. Our team became so desperate to not want that to ever happen again that they were willing to do anything and everything. Because all we did in that series was play in a trap and we got beat. We got beat in a trap. So we learned a hard lesson.
Q. Earlier you were talking about taking more risks.
KEN HITCHCOCK: Sometimes you want to play -- when you are playing against a hockey team like Tampa, you want to play conservative. What we want to do is we want to go the other way. We want to play with some risk here. We want to take chances, want to take risks, and hopefully they pay off. Yesterday they did. Look, they had scoring chances too. The games 1-nothing and they got a 2-on-1 and Esche makes a great save. They had four, five chances in the first period that were pretty dynamic too. The game could have changed. But we scored six goals because quite frankly we are taking some risks now that we were not ready to do before. But we have no choice. You can't keep scoring one goal and expect to win every Playoff game. So we took them yesterday. Our goalie happened to make the saves early until we got the third goal which took their energy out, but we have to play this way. Look at the shorthanded goal - once we got on the attack, we kept going. We were dropping 5-on-4, 4 versus 5. We were trying to attack all the time.
Q. Isn't that contradictory to playing patiently?
KEN HITCHCOCK: Patience is with the puck though. Patience comes from thinking that you have more time than you do and believing that you have more time than you do. Sometimes when the game is played fast, like these games are fast, sometimes you panic and you throw it or you don't skate with it or you are not willing to hang on to it because you think people are coming at you quick. So we are just trying to promote hang on to it, make a play. Hang on to it, make a play. And you know, we feel like if you can just slow it down in your mind a little bit in these type of tempos, you can maybe make better decisions with it. That's what we're trying to do.
Q. Talking about all the odd man rushes you had last night, does Tampa's defense take more risks than most teams that you play against? Seems like they play up further on the ice.
KEN HITCHCOCK: They take more risks not than -- they play a system that's conducive to their personnel and they have players who are very mobile and they can get up and get back and get up and get back and they are good at it. So our obligation is to try to make them pay for getting up. If we can do that, then good things are going to happen. We have had games, I am telling you. They played the same way, we have had games that they have played this way and we haven't got a sniff, but we are -- having played them back-to-back or having played them a little bit now, we are more used to it. We're going to have to adapt because they are not going to change.
They have had all kinds of success. My God they were first place in the conference playing this way. We just have to hopefully make them pay for it at times.
Q. Can you imagine playing this style when you were coaching Dallas?
KEN HITCHCOCK: Oh, yeah. I -- I started this way. This is the way we played in junior. This is the way we played in Kalamazoo. I went into Dallas, got drilled for a month and a half and then we had to change. We didn't have the foot speed. We didn't have the physical side of things and we certainly didn't have the mobility on the back end to play this way. So we had to change. That change took place. We had success so we stayed with it. The way that they play the game, in my opinion, is the way that the game was played when the Oilers were in their heyday, things like that. It's a very exciting brand of hockey.
Q. The way you guys are doing it?
KEN HITCHCOCK: No, the way that Tampa plays. It's a very exciting brand of hockey. It's don't play safe. You know, you admire it. You are going to -- so there's two ways you play them. You either say, if you are going to play this way we are going to play this way and see where it goes.
Q. Do you think you have answered any questions about everybody assuming that they had the speed advantage; do you think maybe your team has answered some of those questions?
KEN HITCHCOCK: They are a fast team. I think people aren't giving us enough credit though. We have got people that can really fly too. We have got people that can really skate. I just don't think people give us enough credit and I don't think players like to hear the fact that you can't skate. I mean, that's the whole -- that's offensive to people even if they are slow as hell when you say you can't skate, it's pretty offensive. Some of our guys were a little bit offended by those comments. They weren't being made by Tampa; they were being made throughout the pros and I think it was offensive to some of our players.
Q. (Inaudible)?
KEN HITCHCOCK: Half our team is playing in running shoes for godsake.
Q. In Dallas, that loss to Edmonton is what really got the players to buy this; what has it been here that you can point to and say that's where it really started to take hold?
KEN HITCHCOCK: I think the loss to Ottawa. I think that really hit home. We had arguably one of the best series in the history of the National Hockey League in the first round against Toronto and we were 2-2 against Ottawa and they went up and we went down and the series was over. I think our players learned about having to play at a higher gear as each Playoff round goes along and I think our players have responded the right way this year. I think the lesson you learn is that it doesn't get easier; it gets harder, and you are going to have to stay with the program.
Q. Last night you were animated about what they were showing on the team there. When you come back here is that the kind of thing you then talk to the people in the Flyers organization about, or is it just sort of known what they are going to show, what they are not going to show?
KEN HITCHCOCK: It's a known fact. You can't do that stuff. You can't incite the fans like that. Those are things that happen at a much lower professional level. We can't do those things. That's how I felt yesterday and how I feel today. You can't do those things. It's very dangerous for the players and coaches on both teams. It's not healthy for everybody. You can't do those things.
Q. We just learned that the League verbally reprimanded them; is that sufficient for you?
KEN HITCHCOCK: It's great. I don't care what happens. I am listening to those people behind us, behind our bench and they are not happy. And they are watching this thing and then it comes up again and again. You can't do it. You just can't do it.
Q. Last night, (inaudible) more chances starting from the points in the blue line shots, looking for tips than there was in Game 1 or is it just going in --
KEN HITCHCOCK: Those happen to go in. I think like I said, the biggest difference was we had all of those odd-man rushes. It's funny because we had the same situation in Game 1 in period 1. We had the breakaway. We had three two-on-ones and two three-on-twos in the first period in Game 1. We didn't hit any of them. Yet we ended up in a situation that we hit two of them in the you know -- we ended up where LeClair was in on a two-on-one kind of from the side and Kapanen was in on a two-on-one from the side too and we hit on both of them. That was the difference.
Q. I think you had five odd-man rushes in the first period, typical game. I mean, how many can you expect to get?
KEN HITCHCOCK: I think it depends on the score. Look, if you are down and you were at home and you are down 2- or 3-nothing after a short period of time, you have got to take risks. You don't have to -- I mean we never had a sniff in the last half of the game when they went up 2-1. They were taking risks because they were down and so -- which is exactly what we would be doing. When we lost 4-1 and 3-1 to Toronto we were taking risks too and giving up odd-man rushes and that's what you have to do to get back in the game. You have got to take risks. You are not just going to kind of hope they are going to give you something because they won't and when they went up 2-1 with seven minutes left in the second period Game 1, we had nothing. We never got nothing.
Q. These odd-man rushes, were when it was just the beginning of the game?
KEN HITCHCOCK: It was early and the energy was just flying and the game was going at a breakneck pace and we had to pop a couple of pucks free and capitalize. That's what happens when you play in a high-tempo atmosphere and you got to keep pace.
Q. When John LeClair was struggling for a goal did you feel that you had to talk to him and what was your approach with him? If you didn't talk to him, what was your reading about him off the ice and on?
KEN HITCHCOCK: Well, first of all, he's a guy that has tremendous pride in scoring. He's a guy that for the last ten years is being a prolific scorer in our League. But on our team he has more impact than just scoring goals. He scored 23 goals and 23 goals in the League this year is like 40 was five or six years ago.
He had a huge impact from Game 5 in the Playoffs, five against Toronto. So for now four games he had had huge impact other than scoring. He created space for Handzus. He created space on the powerplay. He's opened up ice for other people. And yes he hasn't scored but he's done things that we need him to do so we can win. The goal that he scored yesterday was for John and the players. You saw how excited the bench was for John and you know, you know, there's a monkey off his back and he was flying the rest of the night, but he still has had a huge impact and I wanted to just emphasize to him that there's more than just scoring a few goals. He's fighting hard for space. He's pushing people out of the way. That, over the course of a Playoff series, really can help you win if you do those things.
Q. Do I understand that you are taking this occasion to tell him what you have to say to him right now?
KEN HITCHCOCK: Let me tell you not this occasion. Everyday. Because he's lived on one aspect and he's a proud guy and he's always wanted to score and he's still going to have to help us win even if he isn't scoring.
Q. Earlier in the Playoffs you made general comments that did seem to apply to him and several others but a certain group of guys that were less than hey, these guys are doing a great job, you just aren't noticing it. There was, was there not a --
KEN HITCHCOCK: I just felt we weren't -- we were focused on -- when I ask players to step up I am not talking about stepping up scoring. Keith Primeau scored three goals but he stepped up the emotional package. That's what you want from your leaders. You have got to have that in the Playoffs. There's certain periods of time in series where emotion has to completely take over and that's what we needed to have happen. It happened in -- it happened in Game 4 and in Jersey where we went up a gear, happened in Game 5 in Toronto and I am sure it's going to have to really happen in this series because this series has a real emotional edge to it that's going to be really interesting as this thing moves on.
Q. You notice your players sounding like you?
KEN HITCHCOCK: Coach-speak, you mean?
Q. You talked about the importance of that Ottawa series in getting this team formed. Did you find it almost immediate or was there a point over the year where you said okay now they are getting it?
KEN HITCHCOCK: Well, first of all, at the end of the season, I was kind of surprised and shocked by some of the conversations I was having with the players and that kind of set the wheels in motion that we still didn't get it and I know there's been comments that the coach has treated the games in October like they were Stanley Cup Finals. But there is a method to that madness and I think the players now kind of see that and there wasn't a lot of wiggle room early in the season with player's performances but it's all set up for now. I have learned those lessons. I spent, I mean, look, I have worked for two guys Gainey and Clarke who are non-wiggle room guys and they are demanding people of themselves and they know the difference between what it takes to win and what it doesn't. I have learned those lessons about letting people off the hook or cutting them some slack. It doesn't work. We had the attitude pedal to the metal if you are going to take time off take it off between the games. But that has been the attitude of this organization Day-1 this year. We have to have that if we're going to compete.
Q. When were these conversations that shocked you?
KEN HITCHCOCK: They were after the season against Ottawa.
Q. After the season last year you also said it was that thing about how we have to depend a lot more in the next year on our younger core group of players yet as this season evolved and the team was remade, are you surprised it's really more of the veterans than the younger players who have gotten you to this point one step further at least?
KEN HITCHCOCK: Probably I didn't explain it well enough because the point I was making is that the people like LeClair and Recchi, Primeau, had to reinvent themselves. We couldn't rely on what they used to be. We couldn't think of ourselves as just scorers because it wasn't going to happen like that anymore. We had to reinvent ourselves. We had to become -- every player on our team for us to get better -- because you can't change every player. But the players that were coming back had to become two-way players. They had to be equally responsible in both ends of the rink. If you were a 100-point guy five, six, eight years ago or 50 or 60 goal scorer too bad. You are what you are today. You had to become a two-way player. I just felt like when push came to shove towards the end of the series against Ottawa, we became very defensively porous. We were -- we had gaps in our game. We had breakdowns, mentally and physically. We got you know, we just showed big cracks and that I was upset about that and I felt like the people that needed to change that needed to change and that attitude had to change and other younger people had to share in that also.
Q. It's sort of easier to train the younger people to do that than to --
Q. -- as opposed to changing the older players?
KEN HITCHCOCK: People like Mark and John they had to change their ways and they did. That's why we're having the success.
Q. Was there one point where you said, okay, that's it they are getting it or is it still a work-in-progress?
KEN HITCHCOCK: I think it's a work-in-progress. I don't think you -- as a coach you are looking for perfection all the time. But I don't think you ever get it. Maybe once or twice a year you might find it but that's what you are striving for. This is work from progress.
Q. Is there one guy who had to do it before?
KEN HITCHCOCK: Primeau. He had to change.
Q. If he doesn't have the season that he just had and play the way he did for most if not all of the season --
Q. It is?
KEN HITCHCOCK: Pretty much.
Q. Because the other guys won't go?
KEN HITCHCOCK: Well, you are trying to find where you are going to go, who is going to lead. It's got to be really defined when it's really emotional and critical like these Playoffs games are right now you have got to have somebody that says follow me.
Q. The guy in Dallas was Modano?
Q. Equal parts?
KEN HITCHCOCK: Yeah, one in the back, one in the front.
Q. In that same realm that same thought, when Primeau is out with a concussion not getting better for quite a while, what is going on then?
KEN HITCHCOCK: We did a lot of work reinventing the leadership. We included other people. We were ready for it. First time he got hurt we weren't prepared and it was chaos. It was not a good situation. We weren't playing very good and we weren't acting very well. In the second time we were much more ready for it. We brought that group in and we worked that leadership group really hard with each other. We were a lot better, a lot more ready for it.
Q. I am not sure this is right going way back to when you get the job there was a discussion in the media that that was it for Primeau that Hitchcock one of his first moves was shipping him somewhere else. When you took that job, what was in your mind about him, was he a guy you were going to hold onto?
KEN HITCHCOCK: There wasn't much because he wouldn't talk to me for seven days so he kept walking by my office ignoring him. Finally we went and had lunch together. I just told him that after talking it over with some people who I trusted here, felt that he was the best choice for captain, so he's our captain and here's what I expect. Then we worked together. I tried to help him with some leadership manuals and some guides and some reading material. He was very serious about trying to improve as a captain. And I said this before, it's like football coaches with their quarterbacks, or it's like baseball coaches with their catchers, that's what it's like with a captain. There has to be a one-on-one relationship with the coach if you are ever going to have success.
Q. You talked earlier about taking having to take risks against this team. How much easier is it to think that way when you have -- (inaudible)--
KEN HITCHCOCK: I just take his play for granted. I think that's the same thing as Tampa Bay. They just -- they know Khabibulin is a great goalie, they just take his game for granted. That's the same way we're with Esche. We just think every night he's going to play good and we don't worry about him.
Q. You are more comfortable?
KEN HITCHCOCK: I have been comfortable with Esche since the day I met him.
Q. Do you think the players are more comfortable taking risks knowing that he's back there?
KEN HITCHCOCK: Oh yeah, with both guys same thing with Burke .
Q. Brodeur, Belfour now -- it used to be with this same -- no matter who the goalie was, it was a hot goalie. You vanquished two of the better goalies and put a 6th spot on -- what is the mentality that allows that to happen?
KEN HITCHCOCK: I think it's the mentality that you have to have whenever you play in Playoffs and that's that usually to get where you are at. If you look at the four goalies that are left right now arguably you would have to say that they are the team's most valuable players, all four, so you have a choice. You can either accept that or you can try to do something to diminish it. So if that's the best player you have got to out work the best player. You just take a look Kiprusoff, and Nabokov, Esche, Khabibulin they are all their teams best players right now better be prepared to out work them if you are even going to think of having any success you have got to do that.
Q. You mentioned this series has an emotional edge to it, is that a product of what happened in the third period last night or did it have that emotion of before?
KEN HITCHCOCK: No, it's going. It's going. Puck movement, the skill, the transition, it's played at a very high tempo. Like Toronto was inch by inch, you know, and this is not inch by inch. This is -- you make a mistake you make a positional mistake there are people here that can burn you, people who can jump by you, and it keeps everybody on edge. It's very, how would I describe it, it's very -- if you looked at me barking and yelling and you looked at John it's very emotional because it's a very edgy game right now. There's no neither one of these teams are playing with any conservative mindset. We're all kind of just going for it which is good, good for the fans and good for the game.

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