Stars hope his­tory re­peats it­self with the re­turn of Hitch­cock


This wasn’t the worst sea­son since the Stars moved to Dal­las. It was the sec­ond worst. The worst sea­son came in 1995-96 when the Stars went 26-42-14, chas­ing gen­eral man­ager/coach Bob Gainey from the bench at mid­sea­son and forc­ing the Hall of Famer to trust a lit­tle-known coach out of the mi­nors.

That’s how Ken Hitch­cock got his start in the NHL.

The then-44-year-old was a hockey lifer with three years as an as­sis­tant coach in Philadel­phia, three years as head coach of the Stars’ IHL af­fil­i­ate in Kala­ma­zoo, Mich., and more than a decade in youth and ju­nior hockey. He al­ways joked that some peo­ple played 20 years to get ready for a ca­reer in coach­ing, but that he coached 20 years to get ready for a ca­reer in coach­ing.

Twenty years later, it’s al­most as if the hockey gods are wink­ing at the Stars.

The un­likely reunion will hap­pen. Hitch­cock is re­turn­ing to Dal­las and will be named coach at a news con­fer­ence Thurs­day, The As­so­ci­ated Press re­ported.

Sure, he’s 65 now. Sure, the game has changed. Sure, this team is much younger than the one Hitch­cock in- her­ited back when “Macarena” was No. 1 on the charts.

But the signs of “déjà vu all over again” are all over the Stars.

Hitch­cock came in and taught a highly skilled cen­tre named Mike Mo­dano how to play two-way hockey, even­tu­ally see­ing Mo­dano earn votes as a Selke Tro­phy can­di­date.

Hitch­cock came in and helped a vet­eran named Joe Nieuwendyk learn how to fit in as a No. 2 cen­tre, even­tu­ally see­ing him win the Conn Smythe Tro­phy.

It’s easy to look to the past and try to re­build the best hockey mem­o­ries Dal­las has ever known, but it also makes a ton of sense.

Isn’t Tyler Seguin in the same place Mo­dano was? The speedy cen­tre has had plenty of suc­cess and ranks fifth in NHL scor­ing since he joined the Stars in 2013 with 306 points (133 goals, 173 as­sists) in 305 games. But Lindy Ruff was so frus­trated by Seguin’s de­fen­sive play that he slot­ted the 25-year-old at right wing for much of the sea­son.

Isn’t Hitch­cock the per­fect guy to mould Seguin into a two-way player like Mo­dano or Pa­trice Berg­eron? Isn’t that a trans­for­ma­tion ev­ery­one would be watch­ing?

Like­wise, Spezza seems in a sim­i­lar place in his ca­reer to where Nieuwendyk was back in the ‘90s. He’s led an­other team in scor­ing, he’s played in some big play­off games, he’s gained a lot of ex­pe­ri­ence. Now it’s just a mat­ter of get­ting him into the big games again.

If you talk to Spezza, he’s fully aware of his age (he’ll be 34 in June), and he’s also con­fi­dent he’s in the best shape of his life. He might be at that in­ter­sec­tion where he is per­fectly pre­pared for some­thing spe­cial.

Of course, this ver­sion of the Stars doesn’t have Sergei Zubov or De­rian Hatcher or Belfour ... not yet, any­way. But the sim­i­lar­i­ties are there, and it makes sense that Hitch­cock could be the right fit at the right time.

He is older, but he hasn’t lost his fire for the game. He needs a calm, lev­el­headed GM to back him when his nag­ging wears on the play­ers, but Jim Nill seems to fit the bill. His re­turn would be a cliche, but some­times those make the best sto­ries.

They say you can’t go home again, but there are plenty of in­stances when peo­ple have —es­pe­cially when it’s a home they dearly love.

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