Jeremy Roenick takes exception to coach Ken Hitchcock's tactics
Civil war buff Ken Hitchcock is starting his second season as Flyers coach, and his players are learning that he doesn't mind a little strife in his team's dressing room. Four days before the opening game Hitchcock publicly tweaked 33-year-old center Jeremy Roenick, saying he lacked focus in the preseason. The remarks stung Roenick, and after two regular-season games in which he went scoreless, a meeting was scheduled last week to clear the air. "We had a good hour[long] chat," says Roenick, who had a goal and two assists last Saturday in a 5-4 win over the Coyotes. "It was very productive, and it was one where we were at each other's throats."
The Flyers can expect more of those tense encounters. In his previous coaching stop, in Dallas, the 51-year-old Hitchcock molded the Stars into a Stanley Cup winner by constantly challenging his players, including Brett Hull. Last season Hitchcock kept the mind games to a minimum as he installed his trademark defensive system in Philadelphia.
During training camp last month, however, Hitchcock said he wanted to keep his veterans on edge by cutting their ice time and shuffling lines. Late in camp he dropped left wing John LeClair from a line that included Roenick and right wing Tony Amonte, leaving the team's top-scoring unit reeling before the season opener. Roenick lobbied to have 35-year-old wing Mark Recchi added to the first line, but Hitchcock gave 23-year-old Simon Gagne most of that ice time in the first four games.
Hitchcock insists he isn't feuding with Roenick but merely "trying to give him strong direction and knowledge in how to be a great player." Those messages will be easier to take as long as the Flyers are winning, and they were off to a 2-0-2-0 start through Sunday. "[ Hitchcock wants to] keep things negative rather than pat you on the back," says Roenick. "I think everything he does with me is to keep me motivated and on edge."
Atlanta's Surprising Start
Positive Signs After a Tragedy
In the wake of the automobile accident that killed center Dan Snyder and seriously injured star right wing Dany Heatley during training camp, no one expected the Thrashers to play well at the outset of the season. But with a 7-2 victory over the Black-hawks last Saturday, Atlanta improved to 3-0-2-0 for its best start in the five-year history of the franchise. Goalie Pasi Nurminen had been brilliant (1.55 goals-against average), and left wing Ilya Kovalchuk led the league with five goals.
Sure, the Thrashers have benefited from a soft schedule (the five teams they had played were a combined 7-13-4-0), but coach Bob Hartley deserves credit for holding an anguished team together. "My goal is to get this team to the playoffs," says Hartley. "Whether people think it's realistic or not, it's up to us to prove it."
Says a rival general manager, "The accident is an unfortunate reason, but sometimes these things make a team closer."