|Ice Hockey Spotlight:
Q&A with Flyers Head Coach Ken Hitchcock
Thursday, May 25, 2006
By Jorge Palmieri
Q: Have you been associated with or seen a team with 388 man-games lost due to injury, like the Flyers experienced this season?
KH: "I don't think anybody in this organization has been part of something like that. Looking back it became too much of the focus about who was out with an injury and not about who was playing. It was emotionally draining on everybody in the organization. But being here at the Skate Zone and watching these players' improvement is just so dramatic. To see a player walk in the next day after surgery and then see the same player two weeks later after rehabbing is really dramatic. There is a real opportunity here for a lot of the nagging injuries to get completely healed, especially in the groin and hamstring area. Other than Peter Forsberg's injury, we have a chance to be very healthy and fit. Rehab is going well and the players are really hiking up their conditioning because of the supervision under Jimmy (Flyers Athletic Trainer/Strength & Conditioning Coach Jim McCrossin). Jimmy is really working hard with the players to get healthy and physically fit."
Q: So is there a silver lining?
KH: "The silver lining is that the Flyers took a very proactive approach in solving the injury crisis. There are a lot of people out there who are thinking, 'Gee, they have a lot of injuries.' But our stance was a proactive one in having everybody in the organization wanting to get a healthy team that could start down the path. Right now we are seeing the fruit of that. There are players who are excited about the way they are going to feel. Some of the discomforts that the players have had for a couple of years now are not going to be there anymore and you are going to see healthy, excited players who are going to be able to do the things we saw them do in the past and that is good news."
Q: Peter (Forsberg) will be out for a longer period of time.
KH: "You first have to look at Peter as an athlete. Peter is a special person and a special athlete. I think the feeling Peter had was he was only able to perform at ¾ speed of his normal speed. Peter just got tired of feeling tired. He got tired of not being able to use his legs on an every day basis that he is used to. Even in saying that, his ability to pass the puck and see the ice at ¾ speed was still very impressive. He doesn't want to go through that every day where he is not sure how he feels. He didn't want to come to the rink and be a questionable player. Peter is at a stage in his career that there is one focus and that is to win a championship. He has won before and now that becomes your only focus. Whether you are a coach or a player that become your single focus. How much money you make or how long your career lasts is irrelevant. It is all about winning championships. That is where Peter is at."
Q: With all these surgeries occurring during the off-season, are you excited knowing that all these players are going to be 100 percent ready to go next season?
KH: "I am getting excited because I see the physical potential of players who kind of realize they played 'under the bar,' not with their own doing. Everybody is starting to see that it was a very difficult time the second half of the season in just getting a lineup put together, when you see the excitement in the eyes of the players that are getting healthier and feel good about getting better, that's what gets a coaching staff excited. Like any other team you can only go so long on hopes and prayers. You have to be reasonably healthy to compete in the NHL. Right now, you are seeing teams at the end who are relatively healthy and are able to perform at a high level because of this."
Q: Speaking of the four teams still in the NHL playoffs. Do you have a favorite?
KH: "I was born and raised in Edmonton so there is always a passion for the Oilers. It is not who I like, it is that there is an emotional connection with the city that I grew up. In the East, the two teams (Buffalo and Carolina) that were playing the best at the end of the regular season are still competing right now. Those two teams were playing the best at the end of the year and they carried that momentum into the playoffs. The four teams that remain had built up tremendous momentum. Anaheim and Edmonton played with desperation to get into the playoffs and Carolina and Buffalo both had very good seasons and they finished very strong."