Tag Archives: Ken Hitchcock


by Ron Spence

A number of B.C. teams have excelled in hockey.

The Vancouver Millionaires won the Stanley Cup in 1915, and the Victoria Cougars repeated ten years later. The Kimberly Dynamiters won the World Championships in 1937, and the Penticton Vees in 1955. The Trail Smoke Eaters won the Worlds both in 1939 and 1961. And the Vernon Lakers/Vipers topped Canadian Junior A hockey, when they won the Centennial/Royal Cups in 1990, 1991, 1996 and 1999.

B.C.’s consistent success story has been the Kamloops Blasers. They have achieved eight 50 win seasons, and eleven WHL championships, during their twenty-six year history. The Blasers have made six Memorial Cup appearances, and have the most tournament wins – nineteen.

Kamloops also won the Memorial Cup three times in four years, from 1991-92 to 1994-95, which is a record. During these years, three Blasers were named Cup MVPs: Darcy Tucker, Shane Doan and Scott Niedermayer. Sixty-eight Blaser grads have moved on to play in the NHL.

Also, five Kamloops coaches have graduated to the NHL. Ken Hitchcock (Columbus), Tom Renney (New York) and Don Hay have been head coaches, and Dean Evason (Washington) and Marc Habscheid have been NHL Assistants.

Why has this small B.C. city repeatedly beaten higher budgeted teams, in larger centres across Canada, and the U.S.?

First of all, the Blasers have the community support of eighty-four thousand fans.

Tom Renney states: “There is a tremendous sense of pride in the community that collectively supports the tradition of the team.”

The Kamloops tradition started nearly seventy-five years ago, when they first registered a team with the B.C.A.H.A. during the 1927-28 season. Their teams played on natural ice until Kamloops built a 2200 seat Memorial Arena during the 1948-49 season. The first championship Kamloops team, the Elks played the following year in the new Mainland Okanagan Amateur Hockey League. The champs had three of the league’s top five scorers (in a five team league), and went on to win the Savage Cup. A few years later the Kamloops Loggers, a Senior AA team, won the Coy Cup.

Another Kamloops team, the Chiefs played in the Okanagan Senior Hockey League during the late 1950s. The Chiefs won the Coy Cup in 1963 and 1964, while the Kamloops Rockets, a Junior A team, won the Mowat Cup in 1962, 1964 and 1971.

In 1973, the Canadian Major Junior Hockey League’s Vancouver Nats relocated to Kamloops. They adopted the Chiefs’ name, and featured future NHLers Ryan Walter and Reg Kerr. Unfortunately, the twenty-five year old Memorial Arena was too small, and the Chiefs moved to Seattle in 1977.

Kamloops’ next team was the B.C. Junior Hockey League’s Braves, who were a development team for Major Junior. Future NHLers Andy Moog and Tim Watters started their careers with the Braves, who also folded. Following the Braves came the Tier 11 Rockets, who also left Kamloops, but to Revelstoke this time.

Then Kamloops’ big break came in 1981, when the New Westminster Bruins moved north. The Kamloops Junior Oilers – as they were next called – were owned by the Edmonton Oilers, who soon considered relocating to the prairies. That was when the Kamloops community pride stepped in and raised, and borrowed, enough money to buy their own team.

Another reason for the Blasers’ success has been their management. Don Hay stated: “The strength of the Organization starts at the top with guys like Colin Day, Bob Brown, Stu McGregor and the scouts. As a result, we all believed in the same philosophy and what it took to be successful.”

Blasers’ new management was smart enough to hire the best minor league coach in Canada. Ken Hitchcock, from Edmonton, led the Blasers from their inception in 1984, until 1990. He established the Blasers’ philosophy, before moving on to the International League, and a Stanley Cup in Dallas in 1999.

Hitchcock’s first W.H.L. season, the Blasers placed third, and the second year they won the championship, and finished third at the Memorial Cup. Kamloops roared to first place in 1987 and 1988, and went to the Division Finals in 1989. The 1989-90 season, the Blazers again won the WHL Championship, and played for the Memorial Cup for the third time in their seven year history.

Hitchcock left Kamloops with a .693 winning percentage (291-125-15), and had been named the league’s Coach – of – the – Year in 1986-87 and again in 1989-90. Hitch was also voted Canadian Major Junior Hockey’s top coach that same season.

Tom Renney, from Cranbrook, followed in Hitchcock’s footsteps. His first season, the Blasers finished in first place, with a 50-20-2 record, but injuries kept them from the Memorial Cup. In 1991-92 they compiled a 51-17-4 season (Their third consecutive 50 win season, a C.H.L. record.), won the WHL Championship, and went to their fourth Memorial Cup in nine seasons. The Blazers won their first Cup, defeating the Sault St. Marie Greyhounds.

Renney was named the Coach-of-the-Year his rookie season, and earned a .731 win percentage over two seasons, the highest in W.H.L. history.

It was also in 1992, that the new Riverside Coliseum – renamed the Interior Savings Centre – was built.

Kamloops homeboy Don Hay succeeded Renney, and won two Memorial Cups over the next four years, and achieved a .699 winning percentage.

Since Kamloops’ golden years, the Blasers have had their ups and downs. However, one thing has remained the same.

“…hard work has been the common denominator,” Don Hay summarized, “with each successful Blazer team over the years.”

It’s this common denominator, that many believe will lead the Blasers to a Memorial Cup championship once again.


The preceding blog was written for the B.C. Hockey Hall of Fame:


by Ron Spence

You want to be an NHL head coach.

And you’d really like to have that Stanley Cup resting in your living room – at least for a while.

Even though there’s a stranger sitting – in your favourite reclining chair – guarding it, while you’re entertaining that brother-in-law – and his friends – you can’t stand.

So, what’s the secret?

Is there a template for success?

Well, if you’ve been an NHL player, and management believes that you have promise, you might be named an Assistant Coach. That could be step number one.

Of those who have won the Cup since 1997, two have followed that route.

Larry Robinson was hired as an assistant by the New Jersey Devils in 1993. And Randy Carlyle advanced in the Winnipeg Jets’ organization, becoming an assistant coach before the 1995–96 season.

Larry stayed with the Devils, was named head coach and won the Cup in 2000, and Carlyle raised the Trophy seven years later, with the Anaheim Mighty Ducks.

Some career minor leaguers have started their coaching careers in the bottom professional leagues – mostly where they have played, because that’s where they’re known.

And two of them went on to win Stanley Cups.

Peter Laviolette was first a head coach of the Wheeling Nailers, in the East Coast Hockey League. He had played ten years in the minors, including a 12 game cup of coffee with the Rangers during the 1988–89 campaign.

John Tortorella played for Salem State College, the University of Maine, and in Sweden, before finishing in the lowly Atlantic Coast Hockey League.

With his third ACHL team, the Virginia Lancers, Torts was promoted to both the GM and head coach from 1986 until 1988.

Tortorella had his name engraved on Lord Stanley in 2004, with the rest of his Tampa Bay Lightning, and Laviolette with his Carolina Hurricanes two years later.

Dan Blysma was a variation on Robinson/Carlyle and Laviolette/Tortorella.

Dan-Bylsmacourtesy of sportsillustrated.cnn.com

He played nine NHL seasons, and began his coaching career as an assistant with the Cincinnati Mighty Ducks of the AHL. After one season, he became an NHL assistant with the New York Islanders. He joined the Penguins organization as an assistant to Todd Richards in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and when Richards became an assistant with the San Jose Sharks, Blysma became Pittsburgh’s AHL head coach. He was Wilkes-Barre Scranton’s head coach for less than one season when he was promoted to the Penguins, and won the Stanley Cup.

Five of the last eleven Cup winners (There was no Cup awarded in 2005 because the season was canceled.), started their significant part of their coaching careers in Canadian junior hockey.

Scotty Bowman, who won two (1998 and 2002) of his nine Cups over the past decade, started coaching with the Ottawa Junior Canadians in the Quebec Junior Hockey League, and later the Peterborough Petes of the Ontario Hockey Association (This of course was during the days when most junior clubs were NHL farm teams – the Petes belonged to Montreal.).

And, Bowman might have joined Robinson and Carlyle at the top of this list, but his playing career ended after a head injury.

Pat Burns coached the Hull Olympiques of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and Bob Hartley the Junior ‘A’ Hawkesbury Hawks, before the Laval Titans of the QMJHL. Neither had much playing experience, Burns appearing in three games with the OHL’s London Knights.

Hartley won the Cup in 2001, and Burns followed in Robinson’s footsteps with the Devils, two years later.

Out in western Canada, Ken Hitchcock started coaching Midget Triple ‘A’ in Edmonton, before moving to the Kamloops Blazers of the Western Hockey League.

And, Mike Babcock coached the WHL’s Moose Jaw Warriors, after three seasons of leading Red Deer College in Alberta.

Hitchcock had never played to any degree, but Babcock starred for Saskatoon and Kelowna in the WHL, and later the universities of Saskatoon and McGill (1983-87).

Hitchcock led the Dallas Stars to the Cup in 1999, and Babcock the Red Wings in 2008.

So, there is a path to follow.

You can start coaching midget, like Ken Hitchcock, or Junior A like Bob Hartley, and work your way up to Major Junior.

From there, maybe the East Coast Hockey League, or the American Hockey League, and then the Big Tent.

Of course, you have to be the very best there is, at every level that you coach.

Those guys, who have briefly rested the Stanley Cup on their mantles, have had to create room.

They have other trophies there as well.


by Ron Spence



The boring people select chairs. They sit and watch games while eating their wife’s homemade popcorn. They have maybe one beer, two if their team gets to the Stanley Cup finals. Unfortunately, the guys sitting on the Montreal chairs will probably be drinking lots of beer this season.

The people who wander a little closer to the edge fork out for more daring items.

Brian Helm, a chef from St. Augustine, Florida takes no prisoners.

Over a urinal in the Men’s Room of his restaurant, is the caption: “I wanted a Pittsburgh Steelers bar, but this is what I got.”

His Steel Curtain biffy stands below Superbowl memorabilia.


You too can have your own jock biffy.

Next spring they will be auctioning off parts of the Wachovia Spectrum, before the implosion takes place. Rumours that the Broad St. Bullies will be showing up with sledge hammers are just that – rumours.

There will of course be seats – or benches – for those of you who are boring.

But, more important, there will be: two penalty box doors, plus doors from both the Home and Visitors’ benches.

Myself, I would like the door to the Flyers’ Coaches room. I was a big fan of both Fred Shero and Pat Quinn. I know Bob MacCammon, now a Detroit scout who attends games at GM Place, and have enjoyed talking to Ken Hitchcock, Roger Neilson and Terry Simpson.

A new door to my office would be great.



There will be the parts from the old kiosks, where they sold hot dogs and beers – great for the family room.

My second preference – if I lived in Philly – would be a window from the GM’s office.

I would stand and look out my new window, and wonder what Russ Farwell was thinking when he structured the Lindros trade.

To get Lindros, he gave up: Steve Duchesne, Peter Forsberg, Ron Hextall, Kerry Huffman, Mike Ricci and Chris Simon.

And then he threw in two first round draft picks and $15 million bucks to boot.

Sure, Philadelphia improved after the trade, but they could have gotten a lot better had they kept those players and hired a different coach.

Just keeping Forsberg alone would have been better than Eric.

As it was, Philadelphia would pay Forsberg $11.5 million over two years – 2005 until 2007 – at the same time that Toronto signed Lindros to a $1.55 million, one year contract.

Of course, I won’t be looking for any Rocky sports memorabilia in the old Spectrum. The arena was just set up for Establishing Shots, but the two Rocky Balboa vs. Apollo Creed movies were actually filmed in Los Angeles.

Something I will bid on – and can have shipped out to the West Coast – will be the mirror from the GM’s bathroom.

I will stare into it and ask, “Bobby, what did you see? And what were you thinking?”



The Shibe Park stadium hit the dust – old school, wrecker and balls, etc. – in 1976.

In 2009 they will be blowing up the Spectrum. Hopefully you will have part of it in your home beforehand.


If you really want to enjoy yourself, read the DEMOLITION FORUM WEBSITE below.

Now, those guys know how to have a good time.