Fired coach says Blue Jackets on the right path

A day after he was fired as head coach of the Columbus Blue

Jackets, Ken Hitchcock declined to take any parting shots at the

club’s management and said he is eager to see how the franchise’s

young talent develops.

His biggest regret is that he won’t be an integral part of the

future success.

“My message is that these are the actual growing pains that

every organization goes through to get to a high level,” he said

of the Blue Jackets’ disappointing 22-27-9 record a year after

making the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time. “If you look

at the Pittsburgh Penguins, San Jose, Chicago – this is the natural

growth things that go on. Now, coaches come and go and so do some

players. But there’s a core group of guys here that by the time

they’re 25 or 30 years old, eveybody’s going to be marveling at how

good they are and how sound they are. They’re doing it the right

way here.”

Many fans think the young Blue Jackets didn’t respond to

Hitchcock’s checking, defense-oriented style.

If that’s the case, Hitchcock was not apologizing.

“If checking is my style, then I’m guilty as charged. Because

that’s the only way you can win,” said the man with a 125-123-36

record in Columbus. “But it’s going to take a big buy-in. You have

to check to score. Every coach who has a winning program knows

that. If you’re capable of doing that, you’re going to have real

success.”

Another theory for why the team went belly up, winning just

three of 24 games after starting out 12-6-2, was that Hitchcock

could not relate to young players.

Hitchcock had won 408 games in Dallas, where the Stars captured

the 1999 Stanley Cup, and in Philadelphia before he took the Blue

Jackets job in November of 2006. Coming into a job without a

tradition of winning and with a mix of budding young stars and a

few journeymen was something new for him.

“I came here to Columbus with my eyes wide open,” said

Hitchcock, who will be an assistant coach for Team Canada at the

Vancouver Olympics. “I’d never started anything on the ground

floor. I wanted the challenge. We made obviously significant

progress in moving this thing forward. We took a step backward this

year in some avenues. But in my thought process, the step backward

was visible and natural when you try to integrate more, younger and

new players into the program. We struggled at times and we had

success at times. We were inconsistent.”

Assistant Claude Noel was tabbed as interim head coach on

Wednesday. Hitchcock said he called Noel and wished him well in the

rest of the season.

The players were uncertain of the impact of the firing.

“Claude’s going to bring out some different things to our

game,” captain and top player Rick Nash said. “There really isn’t

that much time. It’s tough to change things when you’re 50- or

60-some odd games into a season. We’ll see in the long haul how it

changes. … But it’s an easy change. Bringing someone in right now

will shake up the room pretty good.”

Hitchcock, who said he’ll be choosy about his next opportunity

to be an NHL head coach, expects marked improvement out of the Blue

Jackets.

“I would be just devastated if this team doesn’t have

success,” he said. “Because I came here for the right reasons and

I want to see the job get finished. I think these guys are more

than capable.”

Just a year ago, the Blue Jackets and their coach were the toast

of the city as the club made its first run to the playoffs. They

would eventually get swept in the first round by the Western

Conference champion Detroit Red Wings, but the game at Chicago that

clinched that long-awaited trip to the postseason stands out as one

of Hitchcock’s proudest moments.

“It’s interesting because it’s the first time I’ve ever coached

in my life where the coaches on the other bench were clapping for

you. Usually they’re swearing at you,” a smiling Hitchcock said of

the Blackhawks staff. “They weren’t thrilled with the players on

the ice for their own team, but when that game went to overtime and

we had the point (to make the playoffs), their whole bench looked

at ours and started clapping. It was pretty impressive.”

And with the memory of that moment hanging in the air, Hitchcock

nodded his head and walked away.