Yesterday, the 50-year-old Hitchcock, who signed a four-year contract worth $4.6 million, pledged he would make a difference, just as he did in Dallas.
"This is very similar to when I came into Dallas," he said. "There was a desperation to learn and a commitment from players who were at the stage they were willing to listen and learn. I feel the veterans on this team are open and ready for very firm and strong direction. They are willing to take ownership in the team collectively."
A three-time nominee for NHL coach of the year, Hitchcock had a .610 winning percentage (277-166-60-12) in 5 1/2 seasons in Dallas.
The 1998-99 Stars were a blend of players who were drafted by the team (Mike Modano, Derian Hatcher), signed as free agents (Ed Belfour, Brett Hull), and acquired in trades (Darryl Sydor, Joe Nieuwendyk, Mike Keane).
"Before you can even talk about winning, you have to build a team," Hitchcock said. "You have to have a group that is tight and cohesive and has a real spirit to fight together. . . . If you build a spirit within your group, you can overcome a lot at the end."
Hitchcock said he had serious discussions with his former GM Bob Gainey, former Flyers coach Roger Neilson, and Dallas director of hockey operations Les Jackson (who worked with Clarke in Minnesota) about whether the problems in Philadelphia could be overcome.
"They told me this would be a great situation," he said, adding that he preferred the Flyers job to returning to the Stars, an option he had already dismissed in his mind. "This is a really proud moment for me; this is a feeling for me of coming home."
Two weeks ago, several Flyers criticized Barber for his lack of coaching direction and his failure to build a system or to provide practice time for the power play.
Now they have a coach who focuses on technical hockey, has a proven defensive system, and is known for strong special teams. He drove Dallas players crazy with his attention to details, which Hitchcock believes is the essence of winning a Cup.
Club chairman Ed Snider vowed that, unlike so many of his predecessors, Hitchcock would serve the full term of his contract. If the players rebel or do not adapt, they will be gone.
"He is going to be the head coach for four years and our players might as well recognize that," Snider said. "This guy is qualified. I'm confident I got the right guy and I have not been this comfortable in years."
What happened to the extended interview process that Snider promised two weeks ago? He said the club had compiled a list and begun researching candidates, but that Hitchcock was the team's first choice and there was no need to interview the others if a deal could be struck.
"We felt he was exactly what this team needed," Snider said.
Added Clarke: "We felt it wasn't necessary to start doing interviews if we could get Ken signed."
Clarke said Hitchcock would pick his own assistant coaches. Hitchcock twice mentioned that he wanted no part of player personnel decisions, even regarding free agency. He said Clarke would handle all of that.
"I'll coach the players they give me," he said.
"Hitch," as he is known, was an assistant coach with the Flyers from 1990 to '93 under GM Russ Farwell. He took the head coaching job at Kalamazoo of the International Hockey League in 1993.
That was a significant period in his life, because the coach had ballooned to 450 pounds before gradually losing weight to his current 240. He said his players in Kalamazoo, inspired by his commitment to lose weight, applied a similar commitment to adapt to his demanding style.
Commenting on the Flyers' postseason performance, Hitchcock said: "When you are not sure and committed, there is a loss of energy. There was a loss of energy and lot of indecision. Then it looks like you have 15 guys out of the 20 who can't play. That's not right. There are good players here who are productive players. When you are indecisive in your game, it looks like one player is going south and one is going north."
He singled out Mark Recchi and Keith Primeau as players to whom he has strong ties. He coached Recchi in juniors at Kamloops of the Western Hockey League. Primeau said he knew Hitchcock from being an opposing player and from the All-Star Game some years ago.
"He demands very hard work and he's a very good teacher," Recchi said. "Systems-wise, he is tremendous. He'll be a big influence on our guys."
Hitchcock said he looked forward to working with Jeremy Roenick, a player not unlike Hull, who had run-ins with the coach in Dallas.
Contact Tim Panaccio at 215-854-2847 or email@example.com.