01 March 2007 by Published in: General musings 19 comments

Having grown up in the Philadelphia suburbs in the 1970’s, we were all hockey crazy. When I was 13 years old in the spring of 1974, the Flyers won their first of two consecutive Stanley Cup championships, and we were ALL hockey crazy. I’ve retained my love of hockey for my whole life, and when it was announced we were going to get our own NHL expansion team here in Columbus, I was absolutely thrilled. I share a set of season tickets with one of my former law partners, and I remain a loyal Flyers fan, too.

Our team is called the Blue Jackets, named to honor Ohio’s contributions to the Union victory in the Civil War. It’s a nice thing, but our team has more European players than anything else, and I doubt any of them have a clue what it means.

This past fall, the head coach was fired, a new coach was hired. His name is Ken Hitchcock, and he had just been fired by my beloved Flyers. I was aware that Hitchcock has a serious interest in the Civil War, so I sent copies of a couple of my books down to the team offices for him just to welcome him to town. Until today, though, I didn’t know just how deep his interest runs. The following article appeared in today’s issue of the Columbus Dispatch:

BLUE JACKETS
Civil War not ancient history to Hitchcock
Thursday, March 01, 2007
Michael Arace
THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH
Ken Hitchcock became a Blue Jacket in 1992, the year he visited Gettysburg for the first time. He took a tour and, when it was done, a few re-enactors emerged in period dress to stage a play of sorts. They used the tourists as troops in the scene. It was an epiphany.

Hitchcock, a hockey coach from Edmonton, Alberta, became fascinated with the American Civil War.

“I got all fired up thinking that this leadership and followship issue is really interesting,” Hitchcock said in a recent interview in his office in Nationwide Arena.

“There’s a reason soldiers sewed their names in their coats before going into battle,” he said. “It’s because they knew they weren’t going to survive. Why go into battle? I started to buy books and movies. Then, not long after I got into a regiment, I got into re-enactments all over the United States. I attended roundtable discussions. … I became curious about learning about the value of leadership and followship — with followship being as important as leadership.”

On Friday night, Hitchcock will lead the Blue Jackets against his former team, the Dallas Stars, in the American Airlines Center. It will be his 802 nd game behind an NHL bench. He’s 427-269-105 with one Stanley Cup championship, with the Stars in 1999, and six division titles. He trudges on.

Hitchcock is 19-20-5 since he was named Jackets coach Nov. 22. His brand of leadership can be unyielding. In the past month, he has suspended forward Nikolai Zherdev, made a healthy scratch of veteran defenseman Bryan Berard and relegated a $2.5 million winger, Anson Carter, to the fourth line. (Carter was subsequently traded to Carolina.) At the same time, younger players such as Zherdev, Dan Fritsche, Alexander Svitov and Ole-Kristian Tollefsen have taken their game to a higher level that couldn’t have been imagined in September.

The Blue Jackets are a work in progress and so is their coach.

When the NHL locked out the 2004-05 season, Hitchcock made short commutes to Princeton, N.J., to do some voluntary work with the Princeton University hockey team. And he took that as an excuse to sit in on lectures presented by the eminent historian, Dr. James McPherson, who has won two Pulitzer Prizes for his work on the Civil War. One of McPherson’s books, Battle Cry of Freedom, is credited with the renaissance in interest about the conflict. Another of his prizewinning books is entitled: For Cause and Comrades. Why men fought in the Civil War.

Hitchcock also lunches, on odd occasions, with Jeff Shaara, a best-selling author of copiously researched historical novels. Shaara is best known for completing the Civil War trilogy that was started by his late father, Michael Shaara, whose masterpiece about Gettysburg, The Killer Angels, is a must read in the genre.

“I’ve had lunch a couple of times with the coach,” Jeff Shaara said in December. “We’re not close friends or anything because we don’t know each other that well. But I can say I enjoy his company, his interests. What I do is explore characters. He asks me about Grant, Lee, Jackson and other commanders. It makes sense from a logical point of view. The business he’s in, leadership is everything. You can talk all you want about strategy and tactics, but leadership is everything.”

One of Hitchcock’s closer friends in the field is Patrick Falci, an actor, re-enactor and historian. Falci is known for his portrayal of legendary Confederate general A.P. Hill, who was Stonewall Jackson’s right-hand man.

“Is this professionally motivated? A little bit,” Hitchcock said. “I never thought about using it hockeywise until people started asking me about my interest. And it just started to grow. I went to Texas, where there are a couple of huge re-enactments. It drove it home: There are reasons people follow. There are reasons the soldiers followed Stonewall Jackson. For all of his idiosyncrasies and all of his mannerisms, there was a reason they followed him, and there was a reason they followed Grant.”

By quirk of timing, Hitchcock now finds himself working in the city where the Union blue jackets were manufactured, in the state that gave more soldiers to the Union cause than any other. He’s in proximity to the birthplaces of many of the greatest union officers, including Ulysses S. Grant (Point Pleasant), William Tecumseh Sherman (Lancaster), James A. Garfield (Mentor) and Rutherford B. Hayes (Delaware).

Every game in Nationwide Arena, just before the opening faceoff, a stylish video shows a Union officer sounding a charge, and soldiers following over a wall and across a snowy landscape. The blue-jacketed soldiers become Blue Jackets players in a flash of computerized graphics. Hitchcock, with his arms crossed and with that slightly angry look on his face, has been known to take a peek at the video.

Is it goofy to think that it was this preordained for him to be in this place, at this time?

“I don’t know if it’s preordained,” he said. “But when I was coming here to take the job I was starting to think how unique it is. The first logo I see is the one with the hat. Let me put it this way: When the team came into the league, and I was in Dallas, everyone was wondering what the heck a Blue Jacket was. But I understood it.”

I had no idea that Ken Hitchcock was a reenactor, and I had no idea that his interest runs as deep as it does. I think it’s wonderful that our team–lousy as it might be–has a coach who truly understands and appreciates the significance of the team’s name. And it allows for a convergence of two of the things I love the most–NHL hockey and the Civil War.

Scridb filter

Comments

  1. Mike Peters
    Thu 01st Mar 2007 at 11:57 pm

    Eric;

    Now if we can just get him to one of our meetings — maybe when you speak. That would be too cool!

    Mike

  2. Fri 02nd Mar 2007 at 12:02 am

    Mike,

    I plan on doing trying to do just that.

    Eric

  3. Steve Basic
    Fri 02nd Mar 2007 at 1:32 am

    Eric,

    As you know, am good friends with Pat Falci with my ties to the NYC Round Table. When Ken was coaching in Philly, I thought it would be a good idea to invite him to one of our meetings during the winter, but it never panned out.

    Frank O’Reilly, noted CW historian, and the author of a great book on the Fredericksburg Campaign is also a huge Flyers fan. Frank gave a tour of Guinea Station for our Chat room muster a few years ago, and he told me a great story about Hitchcock. It was during the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and on a game day he got a call from the coach saying how much he loved the book, and was asking a ton of questions about it. Frank was stupefied as the Flyers were involved in a playoff game that day, and yet Ken spent the time focusing on his book during the phone call. Cracked me up when I heard that, but it did not surprise me at all, knowing the coach’s interest in the Civil War.

    When he got the job in Columbus, all I thought was, a CW Student in charge of the BlueJackets. How perfect is that?? :) I hope you guys out there do work it out so that he can attend a meeting of your Round Table. That would be great.

    Hope all is well.

    Regards from the Garden State,

    Steve

  4. Don
    Fri 02nd Mar 2007 at 7:19 am

    Eric,

    It’s always nice when things come together. I had no idea he was interested in the Civil War, but I have several Canadian friends and those interested in history all seem fascinated by it.

    As a fellow hockey fan, I think things will dramatically improve for the Jackets next season. Look how quickly Atlanta has become a force. I think Rick Nash may have to move for it to happen, though.

    Don

  5. Fri 02nd Mar 2007 at 7:42 am

    I thought the hockey team was named after the Ohio Indian called “Blue Jacket.” Is there any reliable proof that the team was named after Union soldiers?

  6. Fri 02nd Mar 2007 at 9:34 am

    John,

    There’s absolutely no question about it.

    The team’s third jersey features a blue kepi. The team mascot, Stinger, has a blue kepi on top of his head. Before the games, they feature a computer animated graphic of Union soldiers attacking that morph into Blue Jackets players. Here’s the proof you wanted: http://home.kc.rr.com/starrpower/sports/nicknames.htm#nhl. Click where it says “NHL” and then, when you get to the NHL page, scroll down the page, and you will find it. The teams are listed alphabetically. Be aware, though, that there’s obnoxious music on this page.

    Eric

  7. Fri 02nd Mar 2007 at 9:35 am

    Steve,

    That’s hilarious. Knowing Frank, and knowing what a HUGE Flyers fan he is, he must have been absolutely blown away.

    Eric

  8. Fri 02nd Mar 2007 at 9:36 am

    Don,

    I don’t see them moving Nash. He’s the franchise player, and he loves it here.

    Let’s hope so. It’s been tough this year, with the team having been shut out 13 times so far and the starting goalie having only played 24 games with a knee injury (he’s out for the season).

    Eric

  9. Jim Epperson
    Fri 02nd Mar 2007 at 11:02 am

    Brooks Simpson has been known to say that hockey is the official sport of the American Civil War, citing the names of the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Calgary (formerly Atlanta) Flames as proof.

  10. Mike Peters
    Fri 02nd Mar 2007 at 12:18 pm

    Steve Basic wrote:

    I hope you guys out there do work it out so that he can attend a meeting of your Round Table. That would be great.

    Steve:

    And then maybe we can also persuade a member of the NYC RT who went to college in southern Ohio to also attend. :)

    Mike

  11. Fri 02nd Mar 2007 at 3:06 pm

    Eric:

    The only hockey team I’ve ever deeply, passionately cared about was the old Salem (later Roanoke Valley) Rebels of the ECHL and later the Southern Hockey League. The Rebels began life in the 1970s as a Flyer affiliate–Salem is where Dave Schultz learned goondom–and later while I was in high school brilliantly cut a deal with the WHA’s Philly Blazers/Vancouver Blazers/Calgary Cowboys. Their logo was–what else–a Confederate flag in the shape of a maple leaf. So there’s another if lamented ACW-related hockey team for you.

    http://www.logoserver.com/hockey/RoanokeValleyRebels76.GIF

    Ken

  12. Jack Dempsey
    Fri 02nd Mar 2007 at 6:19 pm

    As both a long-time Detroit Red Wings fan AND Civil War student AND who has ancestors who volunteered for Union service from Ohio, this convergence is just a great story. I hope that NHL hockey will long find a home in Columbus.

  13. Sat 03rd Mar 2007 at 12:02 pm

    Ken,

    That’s very cool.

    Dave Schultz actually wasn’t that bad of a player. There were several times when he actually scored 20 goals in a season. But, he will always be remembered as the NHL’s greatest enforcer. That’s part of the reason why we loved the Flyers so much. :-)

    Eric

  14. Sat 03rd Mar 2007 at 11:04 pm

    I remember when a visiting hockey teancame to Salem in the late 1970s. They had a black player, and in response, Roanoke/Salem fans (a few of them) threw watermelons onto the ice at him….

  15. Sun 04th Mar 2007 at 12:23 pm

    John:

    A sad and disillusioning moment it was. Thankfully I wasn’t there, but I remember watching the TV coverage when I came home from school one weekend. I’ve been angry all morning just remembering it. Idiots.

    Ken

  16. Brooks Simpson
    Mon 05th Mar 2007 at 3:29 pm

    I hope the opening promo doesn’t sound echoes of Fredericksburg (which, given the Blue Jackets’ record, would be rather mean).

    Tonight, it’s the New York Islanders taking it to the crossriver rival Rangers … and no, Jim, I won’t be wearing the Red Wings jersey you gave me at Ann Arbor when I spoke at the round table. :)

  17. Tue 06th Mar 2007 at 2:16 pm

    All:

    Consider this my roadside sign:

  18. Tue 06th Mar 2007 at 2:18 pm

    Round Tables of America:

    [@#$%^& Charter Internet service]…as I began to say,

    WILL WORK FOR HOCKEY SWEATER

    Ken

  19. Tue 06th Mar 2007 at 8:28 pm

    Ken,

    Me, too. :-)

    Eric

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