After relieving head coach Jeremy Colliton of his duties, the Blackhawks promoted Derek King, who previously served as head coach of the Rockford IceHogs, to interim coach.
Sunday after morning practice, King sat down with NBC Sports Chicago to discuss the move, his coaching philosophy, his emotions ahead of his first NHL game as head coach, and more. again.
Here is the full transcript of the Q&A, which has been lightly edited for brevity and clarity:
Derek, walk us through the last 24 hours of getting the call, then getting ready for morning practice, then your first NHL game as head coach.
Yeah, it’s been crazy. When I got the call, I almost fell off my chair. I called the woman, she was a little emotional, and my phone has been on fire ever since. It rings, text messages, phone messages, I’ve been on the phone with people. Even my kids, their friends are texting them. It’s just been crazy, but a good crazy one.
Is it weird for you to step into this for Jeremy? I know you built a relationship with him at Rockford and I’m sure over the last few years as Rockford’s head coach.
Yeah, you never want to see that. He’s a friend. If anything, it wasn’t that we trained with each other, he was the boss there and I was the boss at Rockford, it was just that we were friends. And we had a good relationship, so I feel [for him]. Yet he understands. I had a good chat with him yesterday. It’s part of the business, we all understand that. That’s why we signed up. And then I’ll just move on.
You mentioned in your press conference that the team is playing tight. You want them to play relaxed. How do you force them to do this?
Well, that’s going to be the challenge. It’s a sensitive group. It’s just one change at a time. I’m going to have to be in their ear on the bench like, it’s okay, we make a mistake, let’s get this over with. And I said in the last 24 hours that you made a mistake, that’s fine. I can live with that as long as it’s a good mistake and you work hard. This is what happens after this error, this is when we need to end it. That’s it. One mistake and that’s it. And I hope that’s how it’s going to be in the first half.
Is it difficult that you arrive in such a mentally fragile group at the moment and that you don’t want to put too much pressure to change it right away? That it could be a gradual process.
Yeah, there’s no point in coming here and puffing out my chest and dictating that’s how we’re gonna change the way we… it’s not rocket science. You’ve probably heard that about this game before. The big deal is liability. Let’s be responsible for each other, play as a team and have fun. It’s the game we’ve been playing since we were so young and it was fun back then, so why can’t it be fun?
You said you have an open door policy. It’s something you believe in. What is your general training philosophy?
I’ve been asked so many times. I’m just trying to manage the players and manage the game. Going there, I feel like it. Some nights I’ll be rah-rah-rah, and there will be other nights I don’t need to be that. I let the guys do it. And I’m just going to get an idea of that.
What is success as an X and O coach versus just trying to let guys play their game and feel comfortable playing that game?
I think there is a happy medium. I think you can mix. I’m a big proponent of letting them play. And if there are any mistakes, we will correct them as coaches by video, talking on the boards, but you have to let these guys play and just go out and do what they do best.
You obviously have a relationship with some of the Rockford players, so I’m sure it’s nice to walk into this locker room with established relationships. How difficult is it going to be and how important is building that trust with the veterans in that locker room?
Well that’s huge. These are the guys who will help you. And I have to earn their trust, and I hope that when I have their trust, they will trust me. They will get to know me. I mean, they’ve seen me around the rink, whether it’s after a game or during training camps, but to sit down and skate with them and really talk to them, I’m going to have to build that relationship.
Have you had a chance to speak with Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews and maybe get their thoughts on what this team needs going forward?
I had a good chat with our leaders and just told them my door was open. I am here to help you get where you want to be and where we should be. I told them we’ll discuss the systems more and get their feedback on what they’re looking for or seeing, and then we’ll go from there.
So structurally, you don’t intend to change anything for the moment?
No, it’s hard. You can’t just come here and start drawing different X’s and O’s. We just have to, like I said, we’re going to make mistakes, we’ll see those mistakes on video after the game and then we’ll decide when is the right time to make structural movements.
So you don’t have “I want to play this way in the defensive zone”, it’s more fair to let the guys dictate what’s best?
Well, I have some thoughts on how I think we can play.
Care to share?
I think we can be a little more structured in zone D. I think they hunt a little too much. The neutral zone sounds good, but again after the game I might see some of those flaws where I think maybe we need to tweak the neutral zone. Offensively, it’s the fun zome. Once you got the puck there, if it was me, I’d put the puck in that area all the time and go get it, and go have fun, but I think the big thing with this team is a small structure in zone D.
For you personally, how do you deal with this stretch? Is this a test for you?
You know, when you’re called by the organization that would like me to come here to help, you can’t say no. It’s my job. I’m here to help the team, whether it’s in the minors helping them create prospects to eventually play for the Hawks or now it’s my turn to help these guys. You can’t say no and I’m glad you did.
I think a lot of fans who watched the press conference have an idea of who you are and your personality. What message do you have for the fanbase? What can they expect from you?
Well, I try not to take myself too seriously. I know it’s serious work, it’s serious play, especially at this level there’s a lot of money involved, there’s a lot going on. But I try not to take it too seriously. I try to keep my calm. I think if players see that I’m calm and not yelling and throwing things and I’m tense, they’ll see that it’s good to relax and have fun.
Finally, you are entering your first game in the NHL as a head coach. You said you were scared, you were anxious at the press conference — I like honesty. How does that compare to your first NHL game?
It’s worse. It’s worse. My first game in the NHL, I got called up from junior, I was in Montreal at the old Forum and started the game, the national anthem, and I was nervous, but that, I’m probably more nervous as a coach than I have ever been as a player.
Is it funny that you feel these emotions as an adult?
Yeah, as a grown man. I say. Do not tell anyone. I have everything under control.
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