September 02, 2010
As an NHL coach, Ken Hitchcock's teams were known for their smothering defense.How fitting, then, that the former Columbus Blue Jackets coach is being lauded in Kelowna, British Columbia for grabbing and holding a shoplifter until public safety officials arrived on Wednesday morning.
According to the Kelowna Daily Courier, a 14-year-old boy shoplifted three pairs of shorts from Cruzwear Unlimited on Bernard Avenue, the "largest swimwear store in Western Canada." Cruzwear employee Sherrie Lessare grabbed the boy's backpack as he attempted to flee the store, and called for help.
Hitchcock, who vacations in Kelowna, was sitting in a parked car and sprung to action when he saw the struggle. Hitchcock and a motorcyclist pinned the shoplifter against a window.
From the Daily Courier (not available online):
The motorcyclist grabbed the teen's arm, but he broke away. Hitchcock straight-armed him against the window as he struggled. He continued holding the boy until members of Downtown On Call arrived. They banned the youth from the store and told him he'd face a trespassing charge if he returned.
Hitchcock returned to the store 30 minutes later to check on Lessare. "There are awesome people out there," she said.
Lessare had no idea who Hitchcock was. She described him as "distinguished," tanned, wearing walking shorts and expensive white runners.
It's true: Lessare didn't know a guy with 533 career coaching victories, a Stanley Cup ring with the Dallas Stars and a gold medal from the Vancouver Olympics had thwarted a thief at her store. Even after she was told about his career, it didn't register: When her co-workers later asked about Hitchcock, Lessare told them he was "a head coach in the NFL ... Ken something."
On Thursday, Hitchcock's good deed started gaining fame. Hockey Canada tweeted a blog by hockey writer Gregg Drinnan that mentioned the incident. Phone calls started coming into the swimwear shop from reporters and radio stations asking about Hitchcock, who is still on the Columbus payroll after his tenure as coach ended last season.
It's attention that Cruzwear Unlimited manager (and hockey fan) Sheri Rothwell appreciates, but wishes Hitchcock didn't have to endure.
"He was a nice enough guy to do it. But he was just another bystander helping someone out," she said, adding that the other Samaritan's name remains unpublicized even though he was the first person who stopped the shoplifter.
Kelowna is a popular summer spot for current and former pro hockey players, and Rothwell said having a former coach helping to stop a crime was anything but surreal.
Her concern is the attention the incident is receiving might deter Hitchcock or someone else from acting valorously in public. The coach has declined media inquiries about the incident.
"It's totally overblown [by the media]. He was just an innocent guy who helped her out and that's all that happened," said Rothwell, who added she hoped Hitchcock would call or visit the store again so they could express further gratitude in private.
"It just sucks being in the limelight."
Thanks to Pat Bulmer of The Daily Courier for additional information.