Ken Hitchcock: Changing Players And Changing The Game
Ken Hitchcock is a name that can bring a smile to any Stars fan’s face. While it wasn’t exactly the case, when “Hitch” came in for his first stint as coach, he seemed to bring instant success with him. In fact, Ken Hitchcock has been known to change players, and change the game.
In the middle of his third season with the team (then renamed the Michigan K-Wings), Ken Hitchcock was offered the head coaching position with the Dallas Stars, and on January 8, 1996, he was named head coach, replacing Bob Gainey, who remained with the Stars as general manager.
In his first full season with the Stars, Hitchcock led the team to a first-place finish in the Central Division and a playoff berth. In his second full season with the Stars, Hitchcock again led the Stars to the playoffs, losing in the Conference Finals to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings. Also during the 1997–98 season, Hitchcock was named to his first of three consecutive NHL All-Star Game teams as coach.
During the 1998–99 NHL season, Hitchcock led the Stars to a regular season record of 51–19–12 (0.695 winning percentage), a team best. In the playoffs, Hitchcock led the team to a Stanley Cup victory over the Buffalo Sabres, the team’s first. The next season, Hitchcock again led the team to the Stanley Cup finals, only to lose to the New Jersey Devils.
In the 2000–01 season, Hitchcock again led the Stars to the playoffs, but the team exited in the Conference Semifinals. Midway through the following season, after getting off to a mediocre 23–21–6 start and in the midst of strife between the players and management, Hitchcock was fired as head coach. These are just a few of the accomplishments on the list for Ken Hitchcock.
No matter what the team was, Hitchcock always zeroed in on the “star” player and made him better. During his first stint in Dallas, Ken Hitchcock even taught Mike Modano how to play a better two-way game. While he was primarily known for his offensive prowess before Ken Hitchcock took over, his game slowly began to change under Hitchcock’s wing.
The Stars would also become very well-known for playing a defense first strategy under Hitchcock. Coincidentally, it’s safe to say that the defense was the weakest link under Lindy Ruff. So, was hiring Hitchcock a bad idea? No.
Sure, the game of hockey is faster. Sure, the game of hockey is very “offensive minded” but Ken Hitchcock can still make a change. Tyler Seguin, once labeled as a partier, lazy player and more – has a chance to prove even his doubters wrong. Under Ken Hitchcock, he will prove them wrong. As Hitchcock assumes his new role, he sees Tyler Seguin as the team’s number one Center.
Under Lindy Ruff, Seguin would play on lines centered by Jason Spezza, Radek Faksa, and even Devin Shore. Ruff also had not decided on a solid role for Seguin either. Under Hitchcock, Seguin can reach the potential all Stars fans know he has. After all, Hitchcock made Mike Modano an even more dangerous player by teaching him a defensive game.
Tyler Seguin is set to have a bigger role on the power play, penalty kill. One of the greatest minds in today’s NHL will be in control. Finally, fans may see the Stars return to glory. At the very least, fans will see them improve. And it all, in the eyes of Ken Hitchcock starts with Tyler Seguin. However, each player will ultimately improve. With a #1 caliber goalie brought in via trade already, all the Stars need is the right defensemen and a few forwards that can play a two-way game. The road to improvement may be long, but it starts with Ken Hitchcock, Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn and their accountability.