Ken Hitchcock

Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock wins Jack Adams


Prior to this season, Ken Hitchcock had been nominated for the Jack Adams three times in his career but had never taken home the award.

Turns out the fourth time was a charm.

Hitchcock captured his first-ever coach of the year trophy at the NHL Awards show on Wednesday night, beating out fellow Adams nominees Paul MacLean (Ottawa Senators) and John Tortorella (New York Rangers).

The win caps off a truly remarkable season for the NHL’s oldest head coach. Hitchcock, 60, had been out of the NHL since Feb. 2010 before taking over a struggling Blues team that was 6-7-0 and in 14th in the Western Conference.

What transpired after the November takeover was one of the greatest in-season turnarounds in franchise history, as the Blues went 43-15-11 to finish the year atop the Central Division (first win since 1999-2000) and second overall in the Western Conference.

With the win, Hitchcock becomes the fourth coach in St. Louis history to capture the Jack Adams, joining Red Berenson (1981), Brian Sutter (1991) and Joel Quenneville (2000).

Hitchcock reflects

Hitchcock had plenty to say about winning the award, especially when it came to connecting with young players. That meant finding ways to connect with players, which perhaps wasn’t that difficult since Hitchcock said that he enjoys “their music.”

(He wouldn’t name any names, but he raved about watching concerts on the Palladia network. Go ahead, imagine Hitchcock listening to The Arcade Fire now.)

“I pride myself in being current,” Hitchcock said. “More than anything I’m fascinated by this age group because Generation Y, the big thing is ‘why?’ They ask that question every day. They don’t just do what they’re told, they want to know why … this generation is making us as coaches more accountable than we’ve ever been in our life. If they don’t buy what we’re selling, they’re not going to go and play for you.”

Hitchcock did an interesting job putting that Blues team in perspective. Interestingly enough, he said that the best team he ever coached was the 2004 Philadelphia Flyers, not one of the Dallas Stars squads. His best work as a bench boss might surprise some people, too.

“The best job we’ve ever done as a staff was the one in Columbus when we went to the playoffs,” Hitchcock said. “That team over-achieved every day.”

This might have been his first Jack Adams, but you got the feeling that the nod was as much a validation of a great body of work than a singular achievement. Still, Hitchcock gives every indication that we haven’t seen the best of this Blues team – but that might require some of his best work, too.

Niemi blanks Pens, notches two assists in Stars debut

Antti Niemi, Sidney Crosby, Patric Hornqvist

DALLAS (AP) — Antti Niemi recorded his 33rd career shutout and assisted on two goals in his Dallas debut, as the Stars beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-0 on Thursday night in the season opener for both.

Ales Hemsky had a power-play goal and an assist.

Rookie Matthias Janmark scored on his first shot on his first shift in an NHL game to make it 1-0. The Stars acquired Niemi and Janmark in trades earlier this year.

Dallas scored on two of five power plays. Jamie Benn, the NHL’s leading scorer last season, had a power-play goal in the third period.

Niemi made 37 saves to improve his career record against the Penguins to 5-1-1. He withstood a flurry in the final minute after Pittsburgh pulled goalie Marc-Andre Fleury for an extra skater.

Fleury had 21 saves.

The Stars are 4-0-1 in their last five home games against Pittsburgh, and have won three in a row overall.

Janmark skated down the slot, took a pass from Hemsky and shot between Fleury’s legs at 1:39 of the first.

The Penguins dominated the latter half of the period, but couldn’t score. Niemi’s best stop was a reaching glove save of Rod Scuderi’s drive from the blue line with less than 3 minutes remaining. Pittsburgh outshot the Stars 10-4 in the first.

Hemsky scored at 5:42 of the second on Dallas’ first power play. His shot from the top of the right faceoff circle went in over Fleury’s right shoulder.

The Penguins again had an advantage in shots, 13-11. Pittsburgh had chances in close, but Niemi turned those away. Midway through the second, John Klingberg cleared away a loose puck from in front of the net.

Seven seconds into the Stars’ fourth power play of the third period, Jamie Benn tipped in Jason Spezza‘s shot from the right point.

NOTES: Dallas acquired Janmark as part of a March trade that sent Erik Cole to Detroit. The rookie had been playing in the Swedish Hockey League. . San Jose traded Niemi’s rights to the Stars in June for a seventh-round draft pick. Also making their Dallas debuts were LW Patrick Sharp and D Johnny Oduya, teammates with Chicago’s Stanley Cup champions last season. . In his first game for the Penguins, Phil Kessel played in his 447th straight game. . Pittsburgh was 0 for 3 on the power play.

Fabbri’s first spoils McDavid’s debut as Blues down Oilers

Robby Fabbri, Justin Schultz
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ST. LOUIS (AP) — Rookie Robby Fabbri scored the tiebreaking goal midway through the third period to help the St. Louis Blues beat Edmonton 3-1 Thursday night, spoiling Oilers rookie Connor McDavid‘s NHL debut.

Vladimir Tarasenko had the tying goal for the Blues near the midpoint of the second period, and Troy Brouwer added an empty-netter with 18 seconds remaining in the third. Brian Elliott finished with 23 saves.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins scored in the first period for Edmonton and Cam Talbot had 28 saves.

McDavid, the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft, took 22 shifts, played 18:07 and was on the ice for Brouwer’s goal. He had two shots on goal, and struggled on faceoffs – winning only three of 13.

Fabbri, a 19-year-old forward — and McDavid’s childhood friend — was also playing in his first NHL game. The Blues’ first-round pick in 2014 was one of three rookies in the St. Louis lineup, joining defensemen Colton Parayko and Joel Edmundson.

Nugent-Hopkins gave the Oilers a 1-0 lead late in the first period with a fluke power-play goal. He lost a face-off but when Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo tried to clear the puck it bounced off Alexander Steen and past Brian Elliott. Nugent-Hopkins was credited with the unassisted power-play goal with 2:38 remaining in the period.

Tarasenko tied it a 9:10 of the second after getting loose on a breakaway with a stretch pass from Alex Pietrangelo and beating Talbot through his legs.

Tarasenko, who signed an eight-year, $60 million extension in the offseason, was the last Blues player to score in his debut.

NOTES: McDavid and F Anton Slepyshev made their NHL debuts for the Oilers. … St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina dropped the ceremonial first puck. … The attendance was announced as standing room-only 19,327.