Ken Hitchcock is not sitting idly by during the pause in the NHL season, watching the tumbleweeds roll through what he says is the ‘ghost town’ of Palm Springs, California, in the grip of the coronavirus pandemic.

Ken Hitchcock is not sitting idly by during the pause in the NHL season, watching the tumbleweeds roll through what he says is the ‘ghost town’ of Palm Springs, California, in the grip of the coronavirus pandemic.The third-winningest coach in League history, Hitchcock is enthusiastically deepening his well of knowledge through online work several times a week with fellow coaches, from the ranks of junior through the NHL.
While no longer behind an NHL bench, today employed as senior advisor to Edmonton Oilers general manager Ken Holland, Hitchcock and a great many coaching colleagues are embracing the professional development opportunities afforded by a number of online sessions, especially the NHL Coaches’ Association mentorship program that rolled out late last month.
Taking advantage of technologies that can create virtual classrooms, these sessions assemble a handful, dozens and sometimes hundreds of coaches in North America and Europe for presentations, question-and-answer sessions and informal exchanges of ideas and experiences.
“I want a chance to learn every day,” said Hitchcock, who’s delighted to be back in school. “That’s what a coach loves. It’s great when you feel that you’re learning something.”
Ken Hitchcock as he made his NHL Coaches’ Association mentorship program presentation.
A recent NHLCA session featured Hitchcock as a presenter, his words absorbed by several hundred coaches who watched him discuss “Effective Communication and Leadership in Building A Team.”
It’s a subject he knows well, having coached 22 seasons for five NHL teams and serve as either head or associate coach internationally for Canada at the IIHF World Championship, World Juniors, World Cup of Hockey and three Olympic Games. In 2019, Hitchcock was presented the Order of Hockey in Canada, awarded by Hockey Canada to individuals for their outstanding contributions or service to the growth and development of the sport.
The 68-year-old native of Edmonton has won 849 games during a career that includes the 1998-99 Stanley Cup championship with the Dallas Stars and being voted winner of the 2011-12 Jack Adams Award with the St. Louis Blues as the best coach in the League.
Hitchcock was dismissed by the Oilers as their head coach on May 7, 2019, the day Holland arrived as the team’s new general manager. But he has remained in the organization, working with the Oilers, the team’s AHL affiliate in Bakersfield, California, and the major-junior Edmonton Oil Kings.
Team Canada’s 2010 Olympic coaching staff. From left: Mike Babcock, Jacques Lemaire, Lindy Ruff and Ken Hitchcock.
Out of the daily coaching grind for the first time in more than two decades, he’s very happily a shadow of his former self, having dropped so much weight through exercise and healthy eating that he jokes about having gone through three wardrobe changes, with a fourth to come once stores reopen.
“I watched a lot of hockey this season,” Hitchcock said. “I was lucky. I dipped into Edmonton, into Bakersfield, and the Oil Kings, who are owned by the Oilers. I was able to participate in a lot of avenues. I really appreciated that. 
“Over time, I’ve come to realize that I’m never not going to love coaching. I’m never going to think of myself as not a coach, no matter what my title is. That’s why I’m so grateful to the Oilers. When I went up there, I was able to participate with junior, AHL and NHL teams and their management. I’ve loved working with Ken [Holland]. I learned so much about the management side, but I still miss the action. I’m never going to not miss the action.
“I really miss the interaction with the coaching staff, the game planning, the reviews,” he said. “I miss the dialogue and the big table that everybody sits around and debates. But I also enjoyed the freedom of being able to dip in and dip out.”
Ken Hitchcock with the 2011-12 Jack Adams Award he was voted as the NHL’s best coach.
Hitchcock eagerly looks forward to the online sessions, which are usually finished early in the morning on the West Coast.
“When you get off those, you feel that you can start your day,” he said. “You feel you’ve got a purpose. You’re learning, taking notes, it’s been fantastic. It’s been really good for all of us to connect. You can see people visually when they speak. You feel like you’re actually with people rather than being isolated.
“It’s not just NHL people in these sessions. When I listen to a lot of these young coaches, who might be junior by name only, I’m left feeling like, man, the NHL is going to be in really good hands. I feel like us older coaches are learning more than we’re teaching. There’s a lot of very impressive young coaches.
“It’s a pretty secure feeling when you know that your fears are the same fears that others have. For a period of time during a day, you get excited for what’s going to happen when this world of hockey gets back in order.”
With Canadian snowbirds having returned home and others in Palm Springs having retreated behind closed doors, Hitchcock says he can drive the 10 minutes to his golf course — which also recently closed — and not see a single vehicle.
Ken Hitchcock makes a point behind the bench of the Dallas Stars in 2018.
“This one doesn’t have an end game,” he said of the virus. “You don’t know where it is, there’s no control. That’s why whatever is working, which is obviously social distancing, we’ve got to hunker down and lead the charge in that area.”
Of an eventual return of hockey: “I don’t have any idea what’s going to happen, but I know hockey people. I know the players, I know coaches, managers, owners, and I know one thing: we’re willing to play anytime and anywhere. We love this sport so much we’ll do anything to get to play and compete. 
“That’s what you love about this game. We want to be able to play and finish what we think it is that we sacrifice for. I think there’s a burning desire in the players and coaches to finish the season. They want to find the right champion. Wherever this thing leads, there’s going to be real strong support that we want it to be done the right way.”
For now, Hitchcock will fire up his computer and share his rich coaching experience while absorbing the wisdom and ideas of others.
“This is a way for us to try to stay engaged and mentally active so that we never stop learning,” he said. “For all of us, this is our first look at what it looks and feels like to be retired. I don’t think anybody likes it. But everybody is trying to help each other right now, learn from each other. Staying connected is a real security blanket for a lot of us.”