Hitchcock embodies experience
Ken Hitchcock's love of the game is apparent.
It doesn't take long to realize how completely immersed the St. Louis Blues head coach is into hockey, and how he's come to understand it as good or better than anyone involved in the game.
So it's little surprise Hitchcock has been able to take a talented club in the Blues and get them to the next level.
"The thing that I get out of him is how smart he sounds when he talks," said Blues defenceman Carlo Colaiacovo. "He just makes everything seem so simple when he talks. The sort of system that he teaches makes it easy to pick up and play. I got a sniff of him at the World Championships, had a great experience with him there, and had a lot of good things to say about him. Now that he's my coach, I still have a lot of great things to say about him, so I'm really grateful."
Hitchcock took over the Blues in November, replacing Davis Payne. The Blues got off to a 6-7 start and management felt a change was necessary.
Having been relieved of his duties in Columbus, the Blues turned to the veteran coach, hoping he could turn their fortunes around.
Heading into Wednesday's game against the Oilers, Hitchcock has the Blues three points out of top spot in the Western Conference.
"Davis was a lot younger, when he came in, he was relating with the younger players a little bit," said Blues winger Andy McDonald. "Then when Hitch came in, everybody was relying on his experience. We know that he's won in the past and we trust him every night that he'll have a good game plan for us.
"He's got the confidence of the players in their room. When he has a game plan, the guys realize when we follow it, we're going to have success every night. That's what it is, trusting him and knowing that he knows what it takes for this team to have success."
Under Hitchcock, the Blues have amassed a 33-10-7 record heading into their game against the Oilers.
They are getting great goaltending from both Brian Elliott and Jaroslav Halak, and offensive production is spread throughout the lineup.
They're not blowing teams away, but finding ways to win close games, which is a credit to Hitchcock.
"There were a lot of mixed feelings when he first came in, because we were just starting a long home stand," said Colaiacovo. "We had played the majority of our games on the road and we were a .500 team, and nobody really expected something like that to happen.
"When he came in a lot of guys were asking players who had played for him before what he was like and what to expect. The message was clear, he's a guy that's going to come in, be a good teacher, be a guy that brings a lot of experience, but at the same time, be someone that pushes guys to be their best. The results are there and they're proven that we are where we are because of it."
Hitchcock, 60, is currently the oldest coach in the NHL. The Edmonton native admits he's had to evolve over the years to be more in tune with today's professional hockey players.
So far, he's pushing all the right buttons with his young squad.
"I think the players said it best: playing for me is like playing for their dad," Hitchcock said. "Then one guy spoke up and said it's the step dad.
"It's what it is. When you've been through this before you kind of know the end game, you know where it's going to go and you can cut things off at the pass. I find myself spending more time on big picture stuff. I still know the details of the game, but I also know where the path goes and that's what helps a lot of people. I know if we go down this path where it's going to end up, and I know if we go down the wrong path where that's going to end up."