Thursday, February 7, 2002
Fired Hitch fired up for Games
By BRUCE GARRIOCH -- Ottawa Sun
SALT LAKE CITY -- Ken Hitchcock was in the mood for the Winter Olympics even before snow fell at his home near Dallas yesterday.
Hitchcock is proof you can't keep a good man down. After being fired by the Dallas Stars two weeks ago, Hitchcock, along with assistant Wayne Fleming, helped put the finishing touches on Team Canada's game plan in the last few days.
While coach Pat Quinn and associate coach Jacques Martin are closing out the pre-Olympic schedule with their respective NHL teams in Toronto and Ottawa, Hitchcock and Fleming spent the last six days getting Canada ready for the chase for gold.
"We just finished the whole package of everything that had to be done,'' Hitchcock said yesterday. '`It should be on Pat Quinn and Jacques Martin's desks (yesterday). Wayne Fleming and I have been going non-stop here since the weekend.
"We spent a lot of time on the technical and tactical aspects of the preparations. Pat has things to do and Jacques is busy. Those guys have the pressure of getting their own teams ready for games this week. Wayne and I have been finishing up all the preparation. We're ready to go."
While his dismissal by the Stars came as no surprise, it hurt all the same. Hitchcock travelled to Los Angeles for Team Canada meetings at the NHL all-star game last weekend feeling a little down and out.
He didn't get much sympathy at the meetings. Team Canada GM Wayne Gretzky, Quinn, Martin and Fleming offered support, but also asked the associate coach to do a little extra for the good of his country.
His answer was predictable: No problem.
As Gretzky and the rest of the staff left a Los Angeles hotel, Hitchcock and Fleming ordered a couple of VCRs and started working immediately.
"We've been working like crazy since," said Hitchcock. "That whole experience was really helpful for me. When I left L.A. after the weekend, I really felt good about myself again and I was able to put everything that happened behind me.
"I didn't get any sympathy. They just made me want to dig in my heels and get to work. It's unfortunate what happened in Dallas, but I'm fortunate that I've got something that I enjoy being a part of to keep me busy. That's good because what happened to me was tough to take."
Hitchcock and Fleming have put together video of the power-play and penalty-killing units. They've helped design the first practice, broke down every opponent and put together a package for the players.
There won't be anything complicated about the game plan. Team Canada plans to be an offensive force. All the staff wants to do is put a system in place to help the players be successful.
DEVIL IN DETAILS
"This is difficult work because you have to pay attention to detail, but maybe it was good for me to do something like that, to take that step back and look at the technical aspect of the game again,'' Hitchcock said. '`You don't worry about that as a head coach. That's something you let your assistants handle because there's so many other things."
Hitchcock will arrive in Salt Lake City tomorrow. The plan is to scout the tournament's first round with Gretzky and Fleming. Canada's first practice is scheduled for 8:30 p.m. on Wednesday, although not all the players will have arrived.
The club's first game is Feb. 15 at the E Center against Sweden. Hitchcock maintained no sense of urgency is being placed on the first three games because they're a warmup for the start of the medal round.
"In a sense, what we're going to have is four or five days of practice and the goal is to make sure we're ready for those (sudden-death medal) games. Winning is important, but being ready for those games is the goal," he said.
2002 Games Men's Hockey Coverage