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Alex Hicks, Penguins Left Winger, 1996-1998

APRIL 1, 2013

Alex Hicks:

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…

Don Alley, Steelers Wide Receiver, 1969

APRIL 5, 2013

First, can you let readers know what you’ve been doing with yourself since your time in the NFL?

After getting injured in Canada in 1971, I came back to Colorado and worked with my fathers construction company for about three years, but my love for golf lured me into the PGA apprentice program in 1974 and I spent about 25 years as a club golf professional.  I got out of the business in 2001 and have been kind of semi-retired since.

You started in the NFL in 1967 with the Baltimore Colts. As a 16th round pick from a small school (Adams State) how did you prove yourself to the coaches to make the team?

I was a very similar reciever to Raymond Berry who was somewhat successful for a few years, and I think that because of his success, I might have got a little longer look than I would have otherwise.  I did have a good work ethic, and wasn’t afraid to spend my time on the “special teams”

You were out of football in 1968 correct? What happened that season and how did you find yourself in Pittsburgh in 1969?

I chipped a transverse process in my neck in our last pre-season game in 1968 and spent the year on IR.

Both in Pittsburgh and Baltimore, who helped mentor you as a young player – both on and off the field – and how did they do so – any examples?

Raymond and Lenny Moore taught me how to play simply by watching them, which I had been doing for many years before the Colts drafted me.  I also used to go to watch Lionel Taylor with the Bronco’s while I was in high school and college.

You played both linebacker and wide receiver. How did you manage to play two such divergent positions and which did you prefer, and why?

I’ve seen in several bio’s that I was listed as a linebacker, but I never was.  I worked a little as a tight end, but was a bit small.

What kind of player were you? If people asked what you were like as an NFL player, how would you describe yourself?

I had great hands, and ran great routes, but was just a step or two slow.  The bump and run was just becomming popular among defensive backs, and it took pure speed to combat those tactics, which I didn’t have.

I think if we would have thought of multiple reciever sets and motion by the recievers, my career would have been prolonged somewhere …. although probably not in Pittsburgh, as Stallworth and Swan were about to arrive.

Who were some of the toughest guys you lined up against – both in practice and on game days?

Mike Curtis was the toughest, Pat Fisher was the meanest

You came to Pittsburgh the first year of Chuck Noll’s time there. What did you notice about how players adapted to his coaching style, and what were your thoughts of him that season?

Chuck Noll was the defensive co-ordinator in Baltimore the whole time I was there.  He brought Don Shula’s offensive playbook, verbatum, with him to Pittsburgh.  It was a rather complicated offense and I was just beginning to get a handle on it after two seasons and three training camps.

I arrived in Pittsburgh right after our last pre-season game and a week before the first regular season game, and I recall that nobody including the assistant coaches knew the plays.  We were practicing at the fairgrounds on a field that my high school team wouldn’t have practiced on, Three Rivers stadium was under construction, and we were to play our home games at Pitt stadium, and I really felt that I had taken a really big step backward comming from a Super Bowl team in Baltimore to a rather dis-organized situation in Pittsburgh.

Chuck Noll wasn’t a real nice or endearing man at that time, but winning and success breeds respect, and he certainly did achieve that.

How big of a role did humor play on that Steelers team and who were some of the guys that were the biggest characters on that team? What made them so – any examples?

There really wasn’t much humor or much reason for it on a 1 – 13 team.  I don’t remember laughing very often that season.  I had never been on a losing team before in any sport, and it was a new experience

You stopped playing after the ’69 season. What prompted that decision?

After the 1969 season, I was traded to San Diego.  Lance Alworth, and Gary Garrison were still in their prime, and they had just drafted a reciever in the first and third rounds (Billy Parks and Walker Gillette) plus 1970 was the first NFLPA strike, which lasted about halfway through training camp.   I just didn’t have much of a chance, and was released just before the first preseason game.

I caught on with a minor league team in Pottstown, Pa and had a wonderful season leading the league in scoring, and finishing 2nd in receptions, and was the leagues most valuable offensive player.  No NFL team seemed interested in 1971, so I signed with the Vancouver BC Lions, but broke an arm in our first preseason game.  two years and three operations later, I finally was out of the cast, but golf was becomming a greater lure than football, and my life headed in that direction.

Are the NFL and NFLPA doing enough for retired players, in your opinion?

Don’t get me started on the NFLPA or it’s multi-millionaire members… rather sore spot !!!