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Ken Hitchcock takes first step in altering struggling Blue Jackets

The Canadian Press
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The Hockey News
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Ken Hitchcock takes first step in altering struggling Blue Jackets

The Canadian Press
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A month after being fired by the Flyers, Hitchcock was formally introduced as the Blue Jackets' head coach Thursday. Columbus, last in the NHL standings, will play the Flyers - just a point ahead of the Blue Jackets - on Friday in Philadelphia.

"When I was on the plane flying here, I felt like, 'Man, I'm in The Twilight Zone.' Hitchcock said. "I hope the players have a lot better day than I'll have tomorrow. It's going to be a tough day."

Hitchcock's first goal is to restore the team's confidence.

"We can't hang our heads and roll our shoulders," Hitchcock said.

Team president and general manager Doug MacLean announced Hitchcock's hiring Wednesday shortly before the Blue Jackets took the ice in a 4-3 shootout loss to St. Louis, the team's seventh consecutive defeat.

The Blue Jackets have the worst record in the NHL at 5-13-1-1.

Hitchcock replaces interim head coach Gary Agnew, an assistant to Gerard Gallant who took over after Gallant was fired Nov. 14.

Co-owner John H. McConnell started Thursday's news conference by introducing Hitchcock as, "The guy we hope is going to save us."

Columbus has had a reputation for being a talented but soft team that features young stars such as Rick Nash and Nikolai Zherdev.

Despite a roster that also includes proven pros Sergei Fedorov, David Vyborny, Fredrik Modin, Anson Carter and Adam Foote, the Blue Jackets are last in the NHL in goals this season with 43 in their 20 games.

Hitchcock wouldn't disclose what he told the team at practice. He told reporters that it's his job to help players move on quickly after games, whether they win or lose.

"That's what needs to change here - we can't get too high and we can't get too low," he said.

Hitchcock, with 408 career NHL victories in 750 games, is seen as a disciplinarian who sets high expectations for his players and then grinds at them until they reach them. But he rejected any notion Thursday that he's solely a defensive-minded coach and said he knows how to run an offence.

The Flyers fired him after the team got off to a 1-6-1-0 start this season. In 503 games as coach of the Dallas Stars from 1996-02, Hitchcock had a record of 277-166-60-7. He guided the Stars to the Stanley Cup title in 1999.

Hitchcock's new contract runs through the 2008-09 season and is believed to be in the range of the US$1.2 million annually he received from the Flyers.

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Ken Hitchcock takes first step in altering struggling Blue Jackets