All-Star Banquet Story
by Jason Cohen
CORPUS CHRISTI --
Ken Hitchcock returned to his roots on Wednesday, serving
as the featured speaker at the minor pro Central Hockey
League's All-Star banquet.
"I've got lots of time on my hands," the recently fired
Dallas Stars head coach said.
In truth, it was his friendship with CHL principals
like Global Entertainment CEO Rick Kozuback, a peer
when Hitchcock coached the Kamloops Blazers of the junior
Western Hockey League, that brought him to Corpus Christi.
Hitchcock has been available as an advisor to CHL officials
and coaches the past few years, and this season the
Fort Worth Brahmas are a Stars affiliate.
"I feel that the grass roots part of the game is here
at the Central Hockey League level," Hitchcock said.
"This is where it's fun, where you don't make a great
living but you coach for the enjoyment, you coach for
the challenge. You and your family have to make sacrifices
every day. I went through those things 15 years ago,
so I appreciate what you're going through. It's good
to get back to the world that made me what I am."
In his speech, Hitchcock joked that some people were
calling his dismissal and former Stars general manager
Bob Gainey's reassignment "a murder-suicide," but then
spoke seriously about the concerns he and Gainey share
about the modern NHL.
"I'm not sure we like where the game is going at our
level. We're old school guys. I coached in a rink that
makes the rink here in Corpus Christi [Memorial Coliseum,
which holds less than 4000 people and has a smaller-than-regulation
ice surface) look like the American Airlines Center,
and I loved it."
Hitchcock also said his time with the Stars' International
League affiliate in Michigan may have been his favorite,
because of the young players who couldn't take the game
for granted. "It was the purest form of coaching. I
had 20 hockey players who didn't want to be there, and
we made a great team every year. At the NHL level I'm
in the the coaching business and the sports business,
but mostly I'm in the entertainment business."
Speaking directly to the CHL players, most of whom are
two steps away from the National Hockey League and only
occasionally prospects for the American Hockey League,
Hitchcock said it was no accident scouts from Edmonton,
Toronto, Columbus and several other NHL clubs were attending
this year's game. "They're here because there's talent.
The game has become global, but there aren't as many
good players as there used to be. Finding diamonds in
the rough is very important."
"It's pretty inspiring for a guy of that magnitude to
come down," Brahmas defenseman Mike Tilson said. "As
much as he says he's not busy, you know he is, so for
him to come down here and put some smiles on people's
faces, it just makes you feel good about playing the
game, no matter what the level."
Finally, Hitchcock brought the house down with an ironic
reflection on his current situation. "I've had a tough
week and it's going to go get worse," he deadpanned.
"Tomorrow I've got to go to Los Angeles and meet with
[Wayne] Gretzky…. That's gonna be tough. I've got to
go to Pebble Beach the next day for golf. I'll get through
that. The 8th of February I'm in Salt Lake City for
the Olympics… I come back, I've got a two week holiday.
And then because my owner fired me, I get paid for the
next three years."
"If you think I fell hard," he finished, "wait 'til
you see me bounce back, because I'll bounce back even