Ken Hitchcock calls it Hockey Canada’s blueprint for success, and he doesn’t plan to change it now that he’s in charge.
The Columbus Blue Jackets bench boss was named yesterday as Canada’s head coach for the IIHF world hockey championship, which runs May 2 to 18 in Halifax and Quebec City.
Hitchcock has watched Canada pile up medals at the Olympics (one), World Cup (one), world championship (three) and world junior championship (four) over the past six years.
“From 2002 going forward, we’ve got a blueprint that we all know about that’s had great success,” the 56-year-old from Edmonton said. “That’s the one everyone wants to follow.”
Hitchcock, who has a career NHL record of 470-311-117 in 12 seasons with the Blue Jackets, Philadelphia Flyers and Dallas Stars, plans to build a roster with speed, grit and energy — and a balanced mix of youth and experience.
“The game is still speed and skill but the grittiness (of the) North American game is going to be paramount — we’re going to play Canadian hockey,” Hitchcock said. “We’re going to play the way we know how to play and it’s gonna fit well with the (smaller North American) ice surface that we’re playing on.”
It’s not Hitchcock’s first foray as a national-team coach. He was an associate coach at the 2006 and 2002 Olympic Games, the 2004 World Cup and the 2002 world championship. But it’s his first time calling the shots as head coach.
Canadian general manager Steve Yzerman announced Hitchcock as head coach in a conference call. Yzerman, who played 22 seasons with the Detroit Red Wings, went head-to-head with the Hitchcock-coached Stars in the late-1990s, including the 1999 squad that captured a Stanley Cup.
He called Hitchcock’s teams “hard-working” and “determined.”
“The one thing I always respected was that they played with a real defensive-minded discipline and they were self-disciplined in the physical part of the game,” Yzerman said. “They didn’t run around on the ice (and) they were very well-balanced.”
Yzerman, who led Canada to gold as GM last year, said the first players could be named as early as next week, once the NHL playoff picture has been finalized. He has already contacted a number of players to gauge interest.