The Dallas Stars bring back Ken Hitchcock as their new head coach (video by Mac Engel/Star-Telegram). tengel@star-telegram.com
The Dallas Stars bring back Ken Hitchcock as their new head coach (video by Mac Engel/Star-Telegram). tengel@star-telegram.com

Dallas Stars

Dallas Stars players embrace Ken Hitchcock’s return as head coach

By Steve Hunt

Special to the Star-Telegram

April 13, 2017 02:58 PM

UPDATED April 13, 2017 11:51 PM

DALLAS

During the Thursday morning news conference at American Airlines Center to introduce Ken Hitchcock as the Dallas’ Stars new head coach, four players listened intently from the front row.

They were captain Jamie Benn, defenseman Dan Hamhuis, forward Tyler Seguin, Dallas’ lone 2017 NHL All-Star and center Jason Spezza.

After the Stars dropped from a Western-Conference leading 109 points last season to just 79 this season, an outcome that led Dallas to not offer now-former head coach Lindy Ruff a new contract, the Stars players see this hire as a welcomed change.

I think that it shows a commitment from the organization to want to win now. His presence and attention to detail is second-to-none, so as a player, that’s both exciting and knowing that he’s going to demand a lot out of you.

Stars center Jason Spezza

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Benn, the Stars’ longest-tenured player, with the team since the start of the 2009-10 season, feels Hitchcock, who previously coached Dallas from 1996-2002 and led the Stars to the 1999 Stanley Cup, has instant credibility because he knows what it takes to reach the top of the sport.

“It’s huge,” Benn said. “He’s been there, done that and that’s what you want in a coach. You want a guy that’s won, you want a lot of experience.”

Following the approximately 30-minute news conference, Hitchcock said in a more intimate media gathering that he plans to play Seguin at center alongside Benn on the Stars’ top line on a full-time basis. And for Seguin, who played for Claude Julien in Boston when he led the Bruins to the Stanley Cup in 2011, he too is looking forward to playing for another of the top coaches in NHL history.

“It’s a new era here,” Seguin said. “His history here in Dallas, his general résumé, it’s hard to duplicate. I’ve played for a couple good coaches in my young career so far and this is going to be the cherry on the cake, so I’m really looking forward to it.”

The Stars missed the playoffs for the second time in three seasons. Only two players, Seguin and rookie Devin Shore, played all 82 games. They allowed 262 goals, second-most in the NHL.

It’s huge. He’s been there, done that and that’s what you want in a coach. You want a guy that’s won, you want a lot of experience.

Stars captain Jamie Benn

And since Hitchcock has a well-deserved reputation as a coach who stresses defense first, Spezza, who has previously played for Hitchcock twice internationally with Team Canada, knows this change should pay big dividends quickly.

“I think that it shows a commitment from the organization to want to win now,” Spezza said. “His presence and attention to detail is second-to-none, so as a player, that’s both exciting and knowing that he’s going to demand a lot out of you.”

This is the third coaching change for Benn, from Marc Crawford to Glen Gulutzan in 2011 and then from Gulutzan to Ruff in 2013. But he admits this latest change has a different feel.

“It’s different. I was quite impressed with my first conversation with Hitch yesterday,” Benn said. “He’s prepared and ready to go already. He’s excited and personally for myself, I am too.”

262 Goals allowed by the Stars last season, the second-most in the NHL

New coaches normally tweak things to suit their style, a transition Benn is looking forward to making again with Hitchcock.

“It’s a challenge. Obviously, his systems aren’t easy, but it’s up to us as players to execute it and take it with stride and be excited about it,” Benn said. “He’s going to help his win, that’s the biggest thing.”