Ken Hitchcock is returning to his natural habitat.
After spending the past 14 months working as a consultant for the Columbus Blue Jackets, he's been given another coaching assignment. Hitchcock will lead Canada into the IIHF World Hockey Championship later this month.
"Selfishly, I want to get behind a bench and get coaching again," he said Monday in an interview. "I miss being part of a team."
Hitchcock had that taken away when the Blue Jackets relieved him of his coaching duties in February 2010. As a consultant, he's done scouting work and spent time with the American Hockey League team, but isn't involved directly with the Blue Jackets.
Interestingly, the man who replaced him in Columbus will be an assistant at the world championship. Blue Jackets coach Scott Arniel and Peter DeBoer, who was fired by the Florida Panthers on Sunday, were also named to the staff.
Those decisions weren't made by Hitchcock.
"Scott and I don't know each other," he said. "Scott's more than paid his dues. He's run the same route as a lot of us -- he's been an assistant coach, he's been a head coach at the minor-league level and now he's just getting his feet wet at the NHL level.
"I think being involved in something like this, it's going to really help him."
Hitchcock was an associate coach on Mike Babcock's Olympic staff in Vancouver, where he watched games from the press box to offer a different perspective on what was happening.
The 59-year-old has worked with seven national teams and served as head coach of the 2008 world championship squad that won silver in Quebec City.
This year's tournament opens with a game against Belarus on April 29 in Kosice, Slovakia. GM Dave Nonis is still finalizing his roster, but has received confirmations from 11 players -- including Toronto Maple Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf and teammates Luke Schenn and James Reimer.
"I think we've got a lot of good players," said Hitchcock.
Canada last won gold at the event in 2007. It is coming off a seventh-place finish last year in Germany -- the country's worst since 1992.
The team will hold a training camp in Paris and Prague before travelling to Slovakia for the tournament. It takes nine games to win the gold medal so Hitchcock plans to go easy on his players in the early going.
"You have to really focus on the bonding and togetherness and fun," said Hitchcock. "Because when it starts to crank up it's like a toboggan going downhill -- it gets going and then it really gets going fast.
"You can't carry too much of a burden with you early by overcooking things."
His last world championship experience left a bad taste.
Hitchcock's 2008 team went unbeaten through the tournament on home soil and carried a 4-2 lead into the third period of the gold-medal game against Russia. However, Canada let that slip away and lost in overtime on an Ilya Kovalchuk power-play goal.
"I would say disappointed would be kind, it was devastating," said Hitchcock. "We had played so well and then in the third period we sat back a little bit too much. Sitting back against elite teams -- the Russians had all their guys there -- you're in trouble.
"You can't play against top teams on your heels."
There was one positive side to that loss. The lessons learned in that game went a long way to helping Canada went it faced Russia in the quarter-finals in Vancouver.
"I think that game really helped from a planning standpoint when we played against them in the Olympics," said Hitchcock. "Both Lindy (Ruff) and I had gone through the experience of sitting back on your heels a little too much and being afraid of what they can bring.
"We just went right after them and stayed after them. We didn't let up."