When most hockey fans picture a Ken Hitchcock team, they travel back in time to the “Dead Puck Era” of the NHL. Perhaps the well-traveled coach would prefer remaining in that climate, but The Globe & Mail’s Roy MacGregor reveals that Hitchcock has adapted to an evolving league.
Hitchcock explains the difference simply: to survive, you must think and move with blinding speed.
“We tried to still play possession hockey after the lockout, and now it’s race-a-rrific hockey,” Hitchcock said. “It’s unbelievable how fast the game is, but it’s fast without puck possession, so it’s like fore-check, fore-check, fore-check, fore-check, fore-check, fore-check.
“Sometimes it feels like it’s organized chaos out there.”
Organizing the chaos
To little surprise, an emphasis on speed means that you need quicker athletes, so that naturally lends itself to a younger league. Hitchcock sees the NHL transitioning to a place where 23-year-old blueliners are expected to make the decisions of a far more seasoned player.
“You’re trying to get some sort of order in your game but you’re doing it with much younger players, and I think that’s why, for me, the biggest change I’ve had to adjust to is the next day,” Hitchcock said. “Not the game day, the next day.”
Finding the right balance
The veteran coach speaks of one of the big challenges of the profession: finding a happy balance between helpful preparation and “information overload.” Hitchcock explains that some coaches load up players to the point that they almost freeze up.
When you talk about the best coaches in sports, you can probably divide almost all of them into one of two categories: guys who molded players to fit their system and flexible leaders who adapted their plans to the personnel and times. At one point in his career, most people would probably place Hitchcock in the former category but that doesn’t seem to be the case any longer.
However you slice it, Hitchcock’s methods are producing resounding results so far in St. Louis.