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May 17, 2004

Ken Hitchcock

TAMPA, FLORIDA: Practice Day

Q. You talk a lot about Keith Primeau, how big he has been for this team. What has been the big difference for him this year? Coming into this year he's had nine career Playoff goals in 115 games. Seven already this year. What's big difference have you seen in this year's Playoffs?
KEN HITCHCOCK: He was a pretty big factor last year too. He was a hard guy to play against. I feel like people are focused on seven goals and those things happen when you are in the Playoffs quite a bit. But the focus for us is more that he's a very positionally sound player now. A lot of the offense that he is creating is because he's positionally sound. He has got offensive opportunities from defensive positioning. The shorthanded goals are a perfect example. He's been excellent on the penalty killing, all Playoffs. Last year we used him the whole year on the powerplay and this year we haven't used him very much at all and yet because he had had a focus of positional play. 5-on-5 play and killing penalties, his positional play is better.
So it always seems to be, to me, those third line guys who carry the ball in the Playoffs. I think every coach has gone through that. They seem to be the major contributors and I don't think Keith is any different.
Q. You have said all season they need to buy what you are selling. Is there a better measuring stick than right now considering the circumstances with injuries and everything else, to find out if the veterans have bought what you are selling?
KEN HITCHCOCK: I think they have bought a long time ago. I don't think that it's -- if you are where you are at now, everybody has bought in. I think the big thing for us right now is we have to have the focus of winning on the road again. We have to win another road game at least for us to win this series. I think I said this at the start: It's not about winning one road game. We are going to have to win multiple games and we're in that situation now. So we know what we are up against. But I think what we're finding out is that there's a real fine line of difference between these two teams, and it has to do with who is controlling the tempo. And the little bit that we have been able to control we have won, and the little bit we have been chasing it, we haven't won. I think both teams have played really hard and really well and there's been little mistakes of somebody grabs the tempo for five minutes in a period, and that's the difference. We know that's going to be this close tomorrow too.
Q. What is your injury update?
KEN HITCHCOCK: Jeremy is fine, he will play tomorrow. He only rode the bike today. And took the step, the first step from being ready to play. He's going to skate tomorrow and then we'll make the decision after the pre-game skate. He is in a position right now where if he can't play then Dennis is up and running and Dennis and Sami will play -- will play as a pair. But we're still hopeful that he could play. He took the step necessary for us today, following the guidelines of the NHL and NHLPA so we have got to wait one more day and put him on the ice tomorrow and see what he does.
Q. A couple of your players say that the extra day between the games has really taken the momentum out of any of the victories you are getting, by the time you get down here you have to start from scratch again?
KEN HITCHCOCK: That's how we all feel right now. I think both teams would like to be playing right away.
First of all, you have to listen to guys like me and I am not good with a lot of time on my hands. And secondly, I just find that this adds to the anxiety beyond belief. You have got so much time to think about it and way too much time, you are not getting in any type of rhythm and at this time of year, it takes so much more energy to restart again. You start to feel your aches and pains. You start to think about how demanding it is.
And the other part of it is, it really feels because of the weather, and everything, that it's dragging on and on, and you really have to work hard to guard against that. I think both coaches recognize that. We are in a little bit different situation than Tampa in that we have got five or six players whose families aren't with them so that time is dragging on also. Very challenging, very challenging for us to keep the team focused.
Q. Do you feel confident that Jeremy is going to be able to play or are you watching him to see how he reacts in today's practice and make a decision tomorrow?
KEN HITCHCOCK: I think any time a player gets hurt you are looking at body language. You are looking at how he feels after exercise. So it's kind of step by step. We felt yesterday that he would practice today. He did, he practiced well. But if there's some soreness and he doesn't feel good tonight or tomorrow morning then those are decisions we will have to make.
But right now, if it's following the order that we want to, I would say that he would be in for sure and you know, there's a question mark on Joni right now. The question mark on Joni is time. How does he feel tomorrow after he's tested again, is he going to feel improvement and then he should be good to go. But if not, then you know, he's not going to be able to play.
Q. As you have said many times, every team deals with injuries this time of year and so forth. Your injuries have come to very specific people who play very big roles, who are veterans. How is that affecting their teammates in your opinion right now? It is a thing of where it's just an added weight every game?
KEN HITCHCOCK: I don't think it is. I think our team is oblivious to this right now. I think our team is in a position where because it was so emotional and so horrific during the season that it almost numbs you now. Our players are to the point where they are numb. They don't really -- I don't want to say you laugh it off, but you don't pay any attention anymore because you just assume it's going to happen and it's happened to us all year.
We have learned to adjust and I think our guys have done a great job with it. But with our players, it was a very tough time when we lost the defenseman then we lost Keith and Jeremy, we went through a very difficult time and we seem to get stronger by it. I think that quite frankly is why our team plays so well late in series because we just keep going. We don't know any different. We just keep plowing ahead and I think that's why when these series seem to get towards the end that we seem to play better and better. We did it in the Jersey series, in the Toronto series and we played a great game in Game 4. I am anticipating that we're going to play very well tomorrow.
Q. As the time went on this season without Keith, you were getting very, very close to the Playoffs. What was going through your mind as far as how you were going to deal with that?
KEN HITCHCOCK: We had put a leadership group together with seven days. At the start of the year five were gone; a couple through trades or whatever, but five were gone. We had this whole new leadership group together then within a short period of time Jeremy and Keith came back. But we were in a position where I really was ready to accept the fact that he might not play. We had moved Zhamnov into that group, we had moved Marcus Ragnarsson into that group. I think all of us, we were starting to think things like Adam Deadmarsh, Allison, we were starting to think that this was just going to be post-concussion syndrome, and then when we started seeing the situation with Scott Stevens, we thought, you know, maybe this is just the evolution of what happens. Then all of a sudden within 48 hours, everything went away and he started to feel real good. I think everybody then was really hopeful.
Q. If Pitkanen and if Timander can't tomorrow, --
KEN HITCHCOCK: Timander will go. He has the same problems that Monte and Recchi and Kim
had and Esche had so he will go. There's not going to be a problem.
Q. If Pitkanen doesn't go does Seidenberg go in?
KEN HITCHCOCK: For sure. We talked it over. Dennis played great, we feel he has got enough games under his belt. He's really competed hard down there so he'd go in for sure.
Q. Ken Dryden today announced that he's going to go in politics officially. Any thoughts on that?
Q. It's going to be on later?
KEN HITCHCOCK: Good luck, Ken. (Laughter) I hope you have fun with it. I am a conservative guy, so --
Q. He's joining a Liberal Party?
KEN HITCHCOCK: I know. Where is Joe Clarke when you need him?
Q. He's in the liberal party too?
Q. Well, he acts like it?
Q. With everything we have seen with Keith in the especially in the Playoffs, are you surprised he got overlooked for the world team this summer?
KEN HITCHCOCK: No, because a lot of the decisions are made on a mindset and I still feel very confident that on past history that he's going to get on the team. I feel very confident about that, that there's going to be injuries or there's going to be situations where guys can't play, going to be camp injuries, and I feel very confident that he's going to be on the team.
But there was a collective decision made after Nagano that all international programs would follow a certain mindset. And the organization has stuck to that mindset. So you have to live with that.
We are all part of the group. I think everybody in here knows how hard I fought for him. I think everybody knows that, but this is also a group decision. There were players that in 2002 that were on there that other coaches didn't have, didn't -- you know they felt strongly about other people. So it's group decisions that's made. I think everybody knows how I feel about him and how our organization feels about him but it's a decision that's made by a collection of people with a mindset and if you see the way the team is built there's a certain mindset to what has to take place here.
Q. Has the banter back and forth between the two teams been a benefit to the League in terms of bringing added attention to the League? Secondly, have you bought your bopper yet?
KEN HITCHCOCK: That's the only thing I could win a prize on was that thing. But I don't know. I mean, quite frankly, there's so much time between games most of us are pretty boring, and it's if you know. I don't take it seriously. I am not sure -- John is Italian. Is he from Boston or --
Q. Maine?
KEN HITCHCOCK: He's Italian, he's from Boston, he's probably a Red Sox fan so he's got three strikes against him right there. For me, it's not a big deal. It's fun, and you know, what the heck. He kind of picked the wrong horse going after Clarkey though. Clarkey, he has got more of an angry side to him. (LAUGHTER). Believe me, having coached six years in the Western Hockey League this is a day at the beach compared to what goes on there. So this is fun.
Q. What did you think of Clarkey's name, the great Tortellini?
KEN HITCHCOCK: He must have stayed up at night to think of something like that. He's usually not that smart.
Q. You were talking about that mindset on the Canadian team. What kind of mindset is putting Gagne ahead of Primeau?
KEN HITCHCOCK: I think it's past history. I think there's a line that's played together, everybody here in Hockey Canada felt that it was the best line in the Olympics that was Gagne/Sakic and Iginla. I think everybody really wants that line to go back together again. I think that it was a line that was magical right from the first shift, and I think everybody is thinking that that's going to be a line that's going to play together again.
Q. Keith said earlier that guys who come to the team he kind of pulls them aside and says listen, don't listen to so much to the delivery; pay attention to the message because he's always dead-on. How important has he been as a buffer in that way?
KEN HITCHCOCK: You need that. This isn't like shopping at the mall. This is a very intense business. Sometimes the coach's body language or sometimes his mannerisms or sometimes the voice, the message gets lost in the mannerism. I told the players that the first time I was hired, look, I am going to get angry at you, but the next day I have already forgotten about it and moved on. I think every coach is like that. This is a very emotional game and the bench is the most volatile emotional area in sport than -- no sport is even close to what the bench area is. Sometimes the message gets lost by the emotion of that bench area. I think the players collectively and individually understand that. But they also know that if I am mad at them on Tuesday and I think John is the same way, on Wednesday we have already moved on. I think that's the key issue. If you stay angry with players, and you stay mad at players, you get nothing out of them. You have to move on very quickly.
Q. Given the severity of Keith's injury how impressed are you that he's come back to continue to be as physical a presence as he is? Obviously in the series that has been a huge difference for --
KEN HITCHCOCK: I think he leads that charge. He likes to play that way. He finds that if he plays that way he's skating better. He looks quicker when he plays more physical. I think the thing that that's impressed me about Keith and his play is that he didn't take long to get up to speed once he was healthy. He took -- most times when people come back from long-term injuries in a lot of cases they are never the player they are, you know, you are always searching for that player that used to be there. He seemed to get up to speed so quickly that it was amazing for us. I couldn't believe how quick he got up to speed. I think that's the thing that's more impressive is how quickly he got his game back in order. We played him a lot of minutes right off the hop, and I think he benefited from that.
Q. You said yesterday I think that you were at least considering moving Sami back up and maybe playing Dennis back there. With Pitkanen being the question mark is that still in play?
KEN HITCHCOCK: Our thoughts were right now if Jeremy couldn't play based on the end of the game if he wasn't able to play and the other situation was if Joni could play then we would have Dennis and Joni play defense and we would have Sami go back up front. That was our thought. But when Jeremy came and felt better yesterday, felt -- practiced today, then it kind of eliminated that thought process right now. But it's still an opportunity you know, if it presents itself. Look, I think everybody knows right now that they are not playing 6 defensemen and we're not playing 6 defensemen. We have got a couple of guys the more we play them the better they play. Johnsson and Malakhov, so we can't lose sight of that. The other factor is the League has instituted these long breaks during periods and it's easier, much easier because I never thought of that at the start of Playoffs but it's much easier to play a shorter bench now than at any time during the season.
Q. Given the fact the Lightning hold the home-ice advantage and the pressures that would come with a Game 7, is Game 5 most crucial for your team?
KEN HITCHCOCK: I don't really think of it that way. You know, Game 7s are out the window for me. Like I have seen it both ways. So I think for us neither team has been able to build anything on a great win. And the challenge for us is to build something off a great win. We had a great performance in Game 4 and we had the same performance in two but we weren't able to build on it. That's the thing that impresses you about both teams. Both teams have responded with the sense of desperation after a loss and that's why we're the ones that feel like we have to change a little bit here if we want to win this series because you know, we don't want to let them build back something that we kind of took away a little bit in Game 4.
Q. Coaches always have a different opinion when they coach against someone than when they have them on their team. Can you talk about what you thought of Keith Primeau before you got him?
KEN HITCHCOCK: For me I thought he was a skilled player that played on the move. I always felt he always played on the move. I remember coaching against him thinking that he was like a bigger version of Frank Mahovlich. He always seemed to be on the move. He was never still, offensively or defensively. I felt that he was a guy that at times overpursued situations. And he was vulnerable because of that. But he's a guy that has really settled down his game without the puck defensively and it's made him better offensively because now he's in the play, he's not chasing it. He's between players defensively, not chasing them from behind and it's made him a much more effective player.

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