Alex Hicks, Penguins Left Winger, 1996-1998
First, can you let readers know about your job at the Desert Youth Hockey Association in Phoenix – how you got started and what you like most as a coach?
I am an assistant hockey director at DYHA. My responsibility is to communicate with all of the associations coaches and managers about scheduling, tournaments, concussion awareness and testing, hockey operations and strategies. I began coaching when my three kids took up hockey. I did not want to at first because I wanted them to learn the game on their own. I soon found out that I was needed on the ice and I began helping right away. I have loved every minute of it.
How difficult has it been to drum up interest in hockey in the Phoenix area and how have you done so?
Hockey is very popular in Phoenix. Phoenix has had a professional team in the city at various levels since the early 70’s. There are countless people who have moved here from hockey hotbed cities like Chicago and Detroit. It is not difficult to get people involved.
As a coach, who are some of the players and coaches that most influenced your coaching style today, and how so?
The coach that most influenced me was Kevin Constantine as he was a stickler for details.. He was very demanding to play for but ultimately he was fair. I find myself molding into a version of him. I also try to use my success and struggles as a player to teach the players I coach valuable hockey and life lessons..
You were traded to the Penguins from Anaheim in ’96. How difficult was that for you and how did you adjust?
It was very difficult at first as I was new to the league and just starting to feel comfortable in Anaheim. I loved playing for the Ducks and I felt that I was a great fit for them. That all changed when I got to Pitt and I was welcomed right away by both the team and city.
I loved Pittsburgh and it was a sad day for me when I left.
How would you describe yourself as a player and how did you mesh with that Penguins roster?
I was a hard working tenacious player. I played as hard as possible and was always there to help my teammates. I was a typical blue collar type worker and I really fit in well with the team and city.
Who were some of the biggest characters on that Penguins team and what made them so? Any examples of the hijinks/personalities on that team?
I always admired Jaromir Jagr for how good he was. I don’t think he ever got the credit for how hard he worked off the ice because he lifted weight after every game we played. He always had a smile on his face and he kept the mood light.
At the time he was the best player in the league and I thought that was cool.
That turned out to be the year of Mario Lemieux’s first retirement. How was that received by the players and staff – what was the effect the announcement and his health had on the team?
Mario was always quiet and reserved. When he did speak however, we all listened. His announcement came as a shock to all of us and left a great deal of uncertainty moving forward. Ultimately Ron Francis took control of the team the next year and did a great job leading us to a successful season.
That year, Eddie Johnston was released near the end of the season and General Manager Craig Patrick took over as coach. How did the players react to that move – especially with the GM now being your coach?
It was stressful when all that came down. Eddie was a players coach and let us figure most things out ourselves. The guys on the team loved him. When he was fired there was a great deal of remorse on the players part that we let him down.
Craig was very easy to play for and the transition was fine. We just ran into a horrible matchup for the playoffs..
There’s a great deal of movement between leagues and cities for hockey players. How does that affect you – both on and off the ice – as a player?
You just get used to it… You learn to never get too comfortable…
What is the biggest misperception you think fans have about hockey players and the sport itself?
I don’t think there is too much of a misperception. We are all just regular guys playing a great sport. The fans always seemed to relate with us real well.
What are your favorite memories of your time in Pittsburgh?
My favorite memory in Pittsburgh was my first game with the team after I was traded. I played on a line with Mario and Jagr.. Wow…