"If this team can't win under Ken Hitchcock, then I am convinced it can't win under anyone."
-- Philadelphia Flyers chairman Ed Snider
Ken Hitchcock was born in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada on December 17, 1951. While growing up in western Canada, Hitchcock did as most young boys do: he played hockey. While he never excelled as a player, he found he had a mind for the game and the will to motivate players. This mind led him to coaching, first at various levels in the Edmonton area, and later a ten-year stint at the helm of the midget AAA Sherwood Park Chain Gang. Hitchcock led Sherwood Park (an Edmonton suburb) to an outstanding record of 575-69. In his spare time, "Hitch" taught hockey fundamentals to girls at a local hockey school.
Taking a chance, Hitchcock submitted his credentials to the new owners of the WHL's Kamloops Blazers, Gary Cooper (no, not that Gary Cooper) and Colin Day. Hitchcock assumed his position behind the bench for the 1984-85 season, and had an immediate effect on the Blazers, leading them to four consecutive division titles and two league titles (in 1985-86 and 1989-90). In both of the seasons he guided the Blazers to the title, Hitchcock was named the WHL Coach of the Year, and was named the top coach in Canadian major junior hockey in 1990. Hitch's team appeared in the Memorial Cup tournament twice, never advancing beyond the semi-finals. In six seasons in Kamloops, Hitchcock recorded a 291-125-15 record, which stands as the second best in WHL history.
In 1990, Hitchcock was hired as an assistant coach in the Philadelphia Flyers organization, serving under Paul Holmgren and Bill Dineen. Hitchcock spent unremarkable three seasons in Philly before taking the head coaching job of the IHL's Kalamazoo Wings (later rechristened the Michigan K-Wings). Hitch spent two-and-a-half seasons coaching the Wings before getting called to the show, during which he compiled a 110-60-32 record.
On January 8, 1996, Bob Gainey had decided to step down as coach of the Dallas Stars, the Wings' NHL affiliate and named Hitchcock as his replacement. (Gainey retained the positions of General Manager and VP of Hockey Operations.)
With Hitchcock behind the bench and Gainey concentrating his efforts on his role as the GM, the Stars fortunes began to reverse. After missing the playoffs in Hitchcock's first half-season, the team made the playoffs five consecutive seasons. While part of the reason for the Stars' success can be attributed to outstanding free agent acquisitions like Brett Hull, Eddie Belfour and Sergei Zubov, and to the development of quality players through the farm system (like Jere Lehtinen, Richard Matvichuk and Jamie Langenbrunner), much of the credit belongs to Hitchcock himself.
The Stars gradually improved each year under Hitchcock, winning their division and making the playoffs in 1996-97, only to be eliminated by the Edmonton Oilers. The next season saw additional improvement, with the team taking the Central Division again and amassing a then-team record 109 points. That year, the Stars advanced to the conference finals, only to fall to the eventual champions, the Detroit Red Wings. In 1997, Hitchcock was the runner-up for the Jack Adams Award (awarded to the NHL's best head coach), finishing second in voting to Detroit's Scotty Bowman.
A season like that would be hard to top, but the addition of Hull proved to be the final piece of the puzzle. The Stars won their second straight President's Trophy, breaking the team record for points with a total of 114. That year, Hitchcock and the Stars pushed their way past the Oilers, the St. Louis Blues and the Colorado Avalanche to the Stanley Cup finals. After an intense six-game battle, the Stars beat the Buffalo Sabres on Hull's disputed overtime goal.
Although the Stars wouldn't win another Cup, they advanced to the finals in 1999-2000, only to lose to the New Jersey Devils in seven games. The next year saw the team eliminated in the second round of the playoffs. Although they were still putting together 100-point seasons, the Stars seemed to be in a state of decline. Hull bolted to the Red Wings during the 2001 off-season and reports out of training camp were indicating that the players were beginning to tire of Hitchcock's tough style. Storm clouds were a-brewin' -- the coach had a well-publicized fight with star center Mike Modano. After 50 games, the team was two games over .500 and fighting for a playoff spot. Gainey fired Hitchcock on January 25, 2002, then immediately resigned. The shake-up left the Stars floundering, and the team finished the season out of the playoffs.
In his tenure with the Stars, Hitch earned a well-deserved reputation as one of the toughest, most strong-willed coaches in the NHL. Hitchcock had several run-ins with many of his players, most notably with Modano, Hull and Belfour. Other players, like Lehtinen, often felt shunned or blamed for perceived slights, as Hitchcock wouldn't be above playing mind games with his players (a page he took out of Scotty Bowman's playbook).
It didn't take long for Hitch to secure himself another job, as he was named as the head coach of the Flyers on May 14, 2002. Already sportswriters are placing bets when Hitch will wage his first battle with tempestuous power forward Jeremy Roenick.
Though he spent most of his life a bachelor, Ken Hitchcock changed that in June 1997, when he wed Nancy Bruce. Hitchcock gained a family in the transaction, and is now stepfather to Bruce's children, Emily, Alex and Noah. Hitchcock and his family have helped to run a hockey camp in Metulla, Israel (Bruce is Jewish).
Hitchcock has struggled with his weight for most of his adult life. After being hired by the Stars, rumors floated about that he would have caught on much earlier with an NHL club had he been able to look, essentially, like a former hockey player. For much of his career coaching in the junior and minor leagues, Hitchcock topped 300 lbs; the extra weight did limit some of what he was able to do on the ice. After being hired by the Stars, he did manage to lose much of the bulk.
Hitchcock is said to be a Civil War history buff.
Philadelphia Flyers - http://www.philadelphiaflyers.com/team/roster/RosterDetail.asp?PlayerID=59
NHL Official Guide & Record Book 2001
The Dallas Stars History - http://www.dallasstars.com/history/index.cfm
"Shakeup in Dallas," CNNSI.com - http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/hockey/news/2002/01/25/stars_hitchcock_ap/
"Great pitch, Hitch," SLAM! Sports - http://www.canoe.ca/Slam020519/nhl_phi-sun.html
"Stars' Hitchcock grows as coach after becoming husband, stepfather," Abeline Reporter-News (12/15/97) - http://www.reporter-news.com/texsports97/hitch121597.html
"Dallas head coach to join Israel hockey camp," The Canadian Jewish News (5/4/2000) - http://www.cjnews.com/pastissues/00/may4-00/front1.htm