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Ken Hitchcock among Alberta Sports Hall of Fame inductees

Ken Hitchcock was among 11 other who were inducted into the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame on Friday
Legendary NHL coach Ken Hitchcock was inducted into the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame on Friday night at Red Deer Polytechnic.

It was never a matter of if but when legendary hockey coach Ken Hitchcock would be inducted into the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame.

In front of hundreds at the Cenovus Learning Centre at Red Deer Polytechnic, Hitchcock along with 11 other athletes and builders were immortalized into the Hall of Fame as the Class of 2024.

Hitchcock told The Advocate he was very honoured to be included.

"I'm really proud of it but I'm more proud of the people who helped me along the way," he said. "I don't get here without all the people between minor hockey and everything else. There are so many people who helped me get to this stage. I'm really lucky."

The 72-year-old from Edmonton started coaching not far from Red Deer. Just an hour and a half up the highway Hitchcock joined the U18 AAA Sherwood Park squad of the Alberta Elite Hockey League in 1974 and went on to coach 10 seasons there.

"I learned a lot coaching against the AAA midget team here in Red Deer, the Optimist Chiefs. [Former Optimist Chiefs head coach] Dave Manning taught me a lot of hard lessons," Hitchcock said.

"I was there for 12 years and I loved every minute of it."

He went on to coach the Kamloops Blazers in the Western Hockey League from 1984 to 1990 where he won the WHL Championship in 1986 and 1990. He was also named the WHL Coach of the Year in 1987 and 1990.

From there Hitchcock coached 22 NHL seasons with the Philadelphia Flyers, Dallas Stars, Columbus Blue Jackets, St. Louis Blues, and Edmonton Oilers.

His first NHL coaching job began in 1992 as an assistant coach with the Flyers but flourished into a long career as the sixth-winningest coach in NHL history. He also won the holy grail of hockey with the Dallas Stars in the 1998-99 season defeating the Buffalo Sabres in the Stanley Cup Final.

"I got my passion for coaching and hockey from my dad. My dad was a coach. I followed the coaches more than the players to be honest with you," he said adding he never played hockey growing up.

"Tonight I ran into 20 people that I knew 30 years ago. I'm so happy that I came to this and got a chance to meet these people. It's fantastic for me and I feel like I'm the luckiest guy in the world to be able to come here."

Internationally, Hitchcock also won three gold medals as a coach with the Canadian Men's National Team at the Olympics. He also won silver at the IIHF Men's World Championship in 2008 and gold at the 1988 World Junior Hockey Championship.

His last season of coaching came during the 2018-19 season when he stepped down as the head coach of the Edmonton Oilers. Since then he's served in a coaching consultant role with the Oilers and is currently with the Blues.

"I've kept busy and I don't ever want to lose the feeling of being a part of a team. I love it."

Among the other inductees were athletes Shelley-Vettese-Baert (Taekwondo) and Chris McGregor (horse racing).

They inducted seven builders including Darwin Davidiuk (curling), Julius Fodor (handball) Patrick Jarvis (Paralympian), Clayton "Darrell" MacLachlan (alpine skiing), Theresa Maxwell (volleyball), Ozzie Sawicki (Paralympian), and Ron Thompson (athletics).

During the ceremony, they also honoured Tom Three Persons with the Rodeo Pioneer Award and John Utendale with the Hockey Pioneer Award.

Chair of the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame Dale Henwood said in his speech on Friday night that each inductee left an indelible mark on the province.

"We pay tribute to these individuals whose dedication, passion, and excellence have set them apart as true champions in their respective fields," he said.

"Many have reached the pinnacle of performance and like our esteemed alumni each one of the inductees has demonstrated an unparalleled commitment and skill inspiring other to reach for greatness."

He explained that each individual serves as a beacon of hope and inspiration for the community showing everyone what hard work and excellence can achieve.

"Their stories remind us that no dream is too big, no goal is too ambitious, and no obstacle is too daunting."

Ian Gustafson

About the Author: Ian Gustafson

Ian began his journalism career as a reporter in Prince Albert, Sask. for the last three years, and was born and raised in Saskatchewan.
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