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January 31, 2006 - Flyers turn to `Old Reliable'

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Flyers turn to `Old Reliable'

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Derian Hatcher doesn't have much of a nickname besides the cliche shortening of his last name to Hatch. But today, that could be changed to "Old Reliable."

When Hatcher was named the Flyers' interim captain Sunday, it was a decision reached by general manager Bob Clarke and head coach Ken Hitchcock. And while Hatcher might be new to fans in this area, he's nothing new to the Flyers' management team.

"Derian didn't have to be sold to our management," Hitchcock said when Hatcher signed with the Flyers in August. "There were already people who had a lot of background on him."

Clarke's relationship with Hatcher goes back to June 1990, when Hatcher was a 17-year-old skating for North Bay of the Ontario Hockey League and Clarke was the new GM of the Minnesota North Stars. Clarke's first significant move was choosing Hatcher with the eighth overall pick in the 1990 draft.

Six years later, Hatcher was the captain of the Stars when Hitchcock replaced Bob Gainey as coach in Dallas. Over seven years, the pair won five division titles, two conference championships and a Stanley Cup. But Hitchcock was fired halfway through that seventh season.

Last summer, when Hatcher was bought out of his contract by the Detroit Red Wings, Clarke and Hitchcock wasted little time getting in touch with their Old Reliable.

And after a slow start adjusting to the new rules, Hatcher has been exactly what exactly what his nickname suggests: reliable. The only games he's missed this season were the first three, due to a suspension from the 2004 playoffs. He entered last night's game at the Rangers with just 15 points, but was second among team defensemen with a plus-12 rating and tops in ice time at 24:32 per game.

But as the Flyers' quest for Lord Stanley's Cup has taken a few wrong turns recently, and with Keith Primeau not close to returning, Hitchcock decided someone new should hold the map. Clarke agreed, and the decision was made. It was time to temporarily stitch the `C' on Old Reliable's No. 2 sweater.

"I think it's a situation where if you have a guy who's a captain with experience, why not take advantage of it?" Hitchcock said in announcing the move.

It's not that Hitchcock didn't have options. Simon Gagne was offered the `C' twice after Primeau went down. His play warranted him a place in the team's leadership hierarchy, but only 25, Gagne said he didn't feel it was his time.

So Hitchcock went with Old Reliable. Hitchcock trusts Hatcher to preach his particular brand of hockey gospel, and he trusts Hatcher to keep the players in line and on the same page, regardless of how loud the coach screams.

"I think working with Hitch before and being captain in Dallas for nine years . . . it wasn't always good times, there were bad times," Hatcher said. "Worst comes to worst, maybe (I can) just help the guys with Hitch a little more."

Some of that already has gone on. In Primeau's absence, Hatcher has kept up a line of communication between the locker room and the coaches' office. Which is exactly what Hitchcock envisioned would happen when Hatcher first pulled on his black and orange sweater in August.

"We just felt that for our team to emerge as a championship-type team again, we needed that same type of presence on the back end and Derian is going to provide that for us," Hitchcock said during the summer.

Sunday, he said, "When things aren't going well, you need to have firm direction inside the locker room."

He's depending on Old Reliable to come through again. NOTE: