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May 12, 2004

Ken Hitchcock


Q. Could we kind of expect the kind of game tomorrow night you had in Game 2?
KEN HITCHCOCK: I think we have to. I think everybody saw who last night's game were those that stayed up to watch. The Playoffs right now with four teams left are played on an emotional edge, real edge, if you don't have it then you look like you are skating in mud. So for us to win we have got to control the emotional edge and try to keep them on their heals as much as possible and they are going to do the same thing to us. I think you know, that's -- both teams will get pretty pumped up to start the hockey game. Then it's who can let the air out of the balloon.
Q. On the emotional edge, home/road matter much?
KEN HITCHCOCK: It seemed to for us this year; I don't know why. We have really played well in our building. We have really played consistent. We haven't had very many lulls in the game. We maybe had a couple of lulls in the second period earlier on but we have even corrected that lately. We have played pretty well in our building. The last game we played in our building was the best hockey game we have played all year. So we are hoping that we can duplicate it.
Q. You talked in the pre-season about being a tougher team to play against at home. Emotionally and physically. Has that sort of had a carry-over effect here?
KEN HITCHCOCK: I thought last year there were times that we just took winning for granted because we were at home. We didn't set any tone. We didn't, either with our puck movement or our physical presence, or our tenacity, we set no tone. We just kind of threw it up in the air and hoped we were going to win. We have done a much better job of that this year. We have been better, especially in the Playoffs. We have tried really hard to set the tone and I think we have had success because of it.
Q. This morning John Tortorella had some comments, said he wasn't pleased that were talking to some players on the ice near the end of the game. Any response to that?
KEN HITCHCOCK: John just needs to mind his own business. Next.
Q. When did you get that idea of having Sami Kapanen playing defense?
KEN HITCHCOCK: Well, we saw him play defense in Carolina on the powerplay and he was very good and then we just started using him on our powerplay and it was either him or Donald because Donald had played defense in -- Brashear had played defense in junior and some minor pro so we flipped a coin and Sami lost. So he's back.
Q. (Speaking about Kapanen) Do you think -- almost like walking a mile under another man's skates -- his appreciation for playing the position now and the relationship on the back end. Is what he's doing extraordinary at all do you think?
KEN HITCHCOCK: I think what is extraordinary it is a mindset to play defense. It's that you are going to get hit and you are going to get battled all the time. I think he understands when he goes up and plays as a forward you notice he hits everything in sight. I think he's -- it's his way of getting even because he has, I think he has a real different outlook on what it takes to play defense in the National Hockey League because you know, you are getting -- people are coming at you. You are not going at them. Other than a team that, say, pinches, you know, he -- Sami, for me, has a clear understanding that it's a whole different ballgame as far as decision-making. You have no time, you have no space. You have to make a lot of decisions with your back to the play. I think there's a new appreciation. Certainly when we have practice there's nobody barking at the defensemen to get the puck up the ice anymore, especially when he had had to go back there and do it.
Q. For a team that had so many injuries during the season can you speak to the fact that you guys aside from bumps and bruises are incredibly healthy right now?
KEN HITCHCOCK: (Laughs). We got 20 guys who can play right now. Nobody is incredibly healthy. If you are incredibly healthy right now you are golfing. We have got enough to play. That's about as good as it's going to get.
Q. Isn't 20 guys who can play still pretty good for this point?
KEN HITCHCOCK: 20 guys, if you can carry the same roster from game to game you are doing real good. And believe me, the ones we disclosed are the bad ones just like Tampa Bay does. Anybody else that has got two arms and two legs and a head is good to go. That's where we're at right now. It's the tail end of the Playoffs right now, everybody is banged up and, you just -- even just to practice, you know, guys are -- for some guys it's everything to get on the ice just to have a hockey practice so you can have some type of continuity. We have been fortunate enough not to lose, other than Eric, any impact players, which I think has helped us. You look at the Toronto series, they lost impact players in that series and that was probably their downfall.
Q. During the season Tampa was the healthiest team. Do you think that's helped you now because something happens you just believe we have overcome so much, no big deal?
KEN HITCHCOCK: I think injured players, we're oblivious to it. We have been oblivious for almost four months now. We went through a pretty traumatic period of time there in January, February, now we're just totally oblivious to it. If a guy goes out we have had some pretty emotional situations between injuries and other things happening to our players, our team is now oblivious to it, and it's the hard-core fact of what you have to do in the Playoffs. It's not about who is out; it is about who is in.
Our team right now is focused on who is playing and they don't even care who they play with as long as they are correcting our attitude right now and I think it has to be that for all teams left, whatever minutes you are going to give us, they have got to be quality. You can't worry about how much ice time you get, who you play with, which role you have. It is just about when you are on the ice, give us your quality. Don't worry about the quantity.
Q. Are you amazed by that list though; when you look at it there's some guys that what we consider lifer Flyers that are not part of this party, if you would, Therien and Dejardins is injured, Justin Williams that was the guy we thought would have the biggest bite of the young guys. Do you ever look at that list and go wow?
KEN HITCHCOCK: You know where I look at that list and that's there's four teams left right now and all four teams had other people in their organizations, very recently, whether it's players or management, or coaches and sometimes we don't pause and reflect on the people that helped get us here.
We miss some of those players. In particular, guys like Eric Weinrich, we miss those players because we had to do some things through necessity. But there's other organizations.
The San Jose situation, everybody is ranting and raving about San Jose, but there's a guy that works for the Flyers that built that organization, Dean Lombardi. You have got the situation in Calgary, a lot of those players were there because of Craig Button, and you have got San Jose there was other management people that made some of the great deals that brought them in and coaches too. We focus so much on the moment, we forget the people that were here for half the year, two-thirds of the year, or sometimes even last year that helped build it to get us where we're at.
Q. Do you think they should feel a part of this, A, and B, do you think they actually do feel a part?
KEN HITCHCOCK: I think they feel part of the players. Depends on the relationship with the coach though. (Laughs). Sometimes that changes, but I think there's players in particular who aren't with us - I can speak for ourselves - who aren't with us that we feel a part of and they should feel a part of us because you know, they weren't traded because we didn't like them. There was necessity involved because of our long-term injuries and they should be acknowledged at some period of time. They certainly should be by our players and the coaches.
Q. If I can go back to Kapanen, there's more and more small defensemen in the League. When you make your decision to put Sami there, did it help to see that elsewhere they use smaller defensemen?
KEN HITCHCOCK: Yeah, I think the first thing -- there's lots of good -- Bergeron sitting there in Edmonton and you know, probably the best case scenario out east is Rafalski.
They have to have two qualities. First of all, they have to be really positionally smart players then they just need to know how to get the hell out of the way. They have no know how not to get hit. There are small defensemen who can't do that. They seem to always get hit. But guys like Kapanen and Markov and Bouillon, they know how to get out of the way. Robidas, who was in Chicago, he knows how to get out of the way. So does Bergeron. That's the key ingredient is to make the play, be able to have the presence of mind to avoid the check and not get beat on.
Rafalski is the best in the League, in my opinion, in the League. Those guys can survive and play for years. Those two qualities have to be there but they still have to be able to go back and get the puck, know that there's a guy they are giving 50 pounds away to that's got a beat on him, and still be able to make the play, that's a good play to get you out of trouble. If they can do those two things then they can be very successful.
Q. In the Playoffs we talk about the importance of physical play. So important that every team -- I am sure it seems as though in talking to some of the guys it's been commitment since day one in training camp. Do you see that even more now?
KEN HITCHCOCK: That's the hardest thing to get your team to do, but I think when your team -- when you can sit up and watch a game on television, or you know, even from the press box all the players look the same , you look at Calgary yesterday, every player looked the same. You couldn't tell the difference between the eight million dollars players and the $800,000 players; they all looked the same. That's when you can tell a team has physical presence going. And to me, when you have that commitment, then your taking away people's space. It's a very hard thing to do. It's not comfortable. It's not an easy way to play, but it's a commitment that every player, in my opinion, has to find a way to make for your team to have success because what you are doing is, if you just look at it, two things are happening. If you are playing physical you are skating. And if you are skating then you are taking peoples' space away. When you play physical, and you arrive on people, they are on the outside of the rink; you are on the inside, so you are always in the play and they are always behind the play. But that's hard to get your players to think like that all the time. Especially top players, they don't play like that normally. But I see guys like Lecalvalier and Richards and Modin, they play as physical as any of our players. They have obviously made the commitment across the way.
Q. You were talking the other day about J.R., How he's undergone a change in position and role. Was it hard to get him to buy into that?
KEN HITCHCOCK: Well, when we put him with Zhamnov, it made it easier for him. And Tony, surprisingly, no. I mean, he was okay with it. I think if we would have had him maybe in a different situation he might be uncomfortable. But he was playing with two good players. I think he actually played some wing at times in Chicago when Craig had him there. But I think being able to play with his best friend and a quality player like Alex, it made it a lot easier transition but it's a huge transition for a guy that has been a life as a center icemen, because the quarters are closer, you are getting banged all the time, there's no room to move the puck, and there's no speed. The speed you get , you create, is usually from behind, or away from the puck and he had to make some big adjustments here.
Q. He can be pretty strongwilled. What has it been like to coach him?
KEN HITCHCOCK: I think -- he just wants to win and I think he's understanding that it takes a lot to win in this League and probably the biggest thing you have to do to win in this League is do things that you don't like to do. There's a saying in our business that if you get the players to do exactly what they don't want to do and find away to enjoy it that's usually when you have success. He's having success, but I can tell you the way he's playing isn't the way he wants to play. No player wants to play that way. But you have to win.
Q. You go back further with Recchi, a long time, he talked about how different you are from the guy he first saw. How different is he from a guy you saw when you came here -- was he a guy you were happy to see sitting in the dressing room?
KEN HITCHCOCK: He's an ally, and we're looking for allies all the time. I think the thing with Mark is, Mark has really changed -- he came from an era which was the back end of the Oiler era. He came from an era where you know, the game was played with flow and a lot of trading of chances, two-on-ones, three-on-twos. He came from an era where the ice was open. And now he's a player that has to play two-way every night. That's hard. It really hard for older players to do that. But he's made adjustments to keep playing in the League. I think he deserves a lot of credit. Him not being a small player, it's that he's learned what it takes to play in 2004. He's been a great salesman for me there. Nine players see here's a guy who was a 1007-point guy, 50-goal guy every year, a guy that was a quarterback on the powerplay. Most of the time played the point on the powerplay and now he had had to turn into a two-way player. He had had to become a grinder at times. He's now playing on checking line. And he had to make a lot of sacrifices. It's easier for me to sell when I have allies like that, and he also knows my quirks. He knows when I am really mad and when I am playing mad. He knows those things. So he can call my bluff pretty good.
Q. What kind of player was he -- you talked about him coming from a different era, but what changes did you have to make in him right away as a junior?
KEN HITCHCOCK: The thing for me -- he fought too much when he was in junior. He had to live with this little -- he came from this proving ground where he had to always prove that he could play -- first of all, nobody even thought he could play major Triple A or for sure, major junior, nobody thought he could play. He went through -- he was in New West, he went through the draft and never got drafted. He was really angry about that. He came back and he was fighting everybody, 6 foot 3, 6 foot 5, he didn't care, he was fighting everybody. We had to finally get him to calm down and play. He was so angry not getting drafted that he wanted to, you know, take on the world. I think he just had to find a niche. I think going to Pittsburgh was the best situation for him because he fell into the perfect scenario, play-making team, a team that was a puck-control, puck transition team, and I think that really helped his career. I think if he would have fallen into a grind-it-out, he might not have had as long a career as he had had now. He walked in at the perfect scene.
Q. Did he win any of those battles?
KEN HITCHCOCK: A lot. Just getting through his brothers is a big struggle. Did you see those guys?
Q. Is he the kind of ally that you rely on when you are talking about the evolution of a player like LeClair then in terms of saying you know, I know you used the Andreychuk comparison, but is Recchi one of those guys that has helped or is helping in selling a different kind of style for John?
KEN HITCHCOCK: I don't think it's so much a player. It's ideals. He's -- first of all, he's a really smart hockey person. He really reads the game well. He can tell you almost 100% of the time exactly what went right and what went wrong. He reads the game. He's very, very well spoken on the game of hockey. I think the thing that Mark is -- he can cut through the political stuff that goes on in the game now. Sometimes you, you know, for instance if you have lost a hockey game, sometimes players pick up minutes played sheet or look at it, they are looking at plus/minus or their minutes played. Mark can cut right through that and say, listen, it's not about that. This is why we lost. This is what needs to be better. He can cut through all of the emotion and get to the facts in the locker room and I think he has got the potential to be, when he's finished playing a very, very good organizational person, whether it's involved in coaching or managing or player development, because he really can read how everybody is playing on the ice and what the other team is doing. He's a smart guy.
Q. This is a little off topic and because we're nearing an end I have to ask you this: It's about Team Canada. Towards the end of May is when the roster is going too come out. Because it's going to be on in North America it won't be Olympic size ice. I am wondering if that may have an effect in the selection process?
KEN HITCHCOCK: Yes. Yeah, I think also what happened in 1996 has a huge impact, I think all of us felt that the American team physically controlled the Canadian team a little bit and that has a huge impact on our the teams going to be selected. I think there was, it's not an international game. It's international players, 99% of them are going to be NHL players, but it's played with a very high level of intensity and a physical tone to it. So I think if there's a balance anywhere, we have to look at the most competitive players, but also size will be a huge factor again because of the smaller surface.
Q. Would you be shocked if Primeau weren't on that team?
KEN HITCHCOCK: I don't really want to comment. If somebody asks me if he can help, then the answer obviously is going to be yes. But there's so many good players, there's so many good young forwards. I think the decisions that have to be made are further up the line. There's an old guard that's there that's had great success. Now there's this new young guard that's knocking on the door that wants a bite of this too. So there's going to be some really hard decisions. I think it's going to be the balance between older players and younger players that's going to be very difficult for us.
Q. What were the tires for?
KEN HITCHCOCK: I had this plan seeing if we can shoot it around the tires and Hartsy told me get lost. I rolled those things all the way from Medford today.
(LAUGHTER) I was very upset by that. Took me two hours to get to work today. Thanks.

End of FastScripts...

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