Ken Hitchcock

Ken Hitchcock keeps up with “race-a-riffic hockey”

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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.

PHT Morning Skate: Ken Hitchcock is a teacher, not a screamer

Toronto Maple Leafs v St. Louis Blues
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PHT’s Morning Skate takes a look around the world of hockey to see what’s happening and what we’ll be talking about around the NHL world and beyond.

Ken Hitchcock wants to be a teacher this time around, not a screamer. We’re sure the Blues are very thankful for that. (Post-Dispatch)

Eric Staal is more than ready to just move along with his season now. (Toronto Sun)

Sharks coach Todd McClellan says the Canucks got all the chances San Jose didn’t in Vancouver’s overtime win. (Working the Corners)

Mike Babcock says that Jimmy Howard is one poised dude in net compared to past seasons. (Detroit Free Press)

Speaking of poise, Toronto’s young defensemen could use a bit more of that. (TSN)

The Capitals were happy to get physical in their big win over the Rangers. (Capitals Insider)

Joel Quenneville wasn’t too happy with the officiating in their loss to the Kings. (CSNChicago.com)

Meanwhile, Brandon Pirri is hoping to stick around with the Blackhawks. (Chicago Tribune)

Nathan Gerbe is staying upbeat during his injury recovery. (Buffalo News)

John Tortorella said his defense was “brain dead” during their loss to the Caps. Ouch. (Ranger Rants)

Ales Hemsky’s future in Edmonton is very much clouded thanks to trade rumors. (Edmonton Journal)

Ken Hitchcock discovers the effectiveness of text messages

Ken Hitchcock
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In a piece entitled “Time has done wonders for Ken Hitchcock“, ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun explains how St. Louis’ 60-year-old head coach has adapted his style to fit with today’s modern player.

Apparently Hitch attended symposiums the past two summers on dealing with younger athletes, how to approach them and — perhaps most importantly — how useless it is to leave them voice mail.

“If you want a player to call you back on the telephone and you actually want to talk to him, then you have to text him,” said Hitchcock. “If you call him and leave a message, there’s a good chance you won’t get a phone call back for a little while. But if you text him and tell him you want to talk to him, you’ll get a call right away. It’s just the way it works with this age group. Those are little things you have to learn.”

I love that Hitch called it a “telephone.” It conjures up images of him on a rotary, dialing the operator, asking how he can leave an important textual correspondence for TJ Oshie.

Turns out texting isn’t the only technological innovation Hitch found intriguing.

“Two hours before the game last night, I’ve got a player watching all of his shifts on his own iPad from the game before,” Hitchcock said. “[Players] know everything about what’s going on. They want input, and you have to give it to them if you want your team to respect you and play hard for you.”

I guess relating to today’s players is tough on older coaches. Generational gaps have always existed, but the technological advancements over the last 10-20 years are huge. I remember the height of bus ride entertainment being a book of CDs and a Discman, and I’m only 32 years old. No wonder Ron Wilson (who, at 56, is one of the league’s older coaches) joined Twitter — it was his chance to connect with the kids and their newfangled gizmos.

Speaking of Twitter, it doesn’t sound like there’s any chance of Hitch joining the fray.

“I’m not going to Twitter, no,” he told LeBrun.

Ken Hitchcock thinks Barry Trotz is a villain

Barry Trotz
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Ken Hitchcock and Barry Trotz are rivals and they’re both solid coaches. That doesn’t mean that Hitchcock has to pump his tires all the time.

As their two teams set to square off tonight in Nashville, Hitchcock took some time out to paint Trotz as the enemy of the state, a tried and true master of evil, making us think back to when he called Trotz “Darth Vader.”

Joshua Cooper of The Tennessean gives us more of the tongue-in-cheek analysis from Hitchcock:

“He’s a villain, he’s a villain. He’s a villainous character. He’s got no sympathy for me. I told him last year, I said, ‘Trotzy I don’t think I’m going to get a job, so we’re going to stay in British Columbia for September and October.’ He says, ‘well that’s good, if you’re going to be there in September, the leaves need cleaning off my driveway on the summer place in Vernon.’ He says, ‘If you’re going to be there in October, can you work the eavestroughs and the gutters.’ So he’s got no sympathy.

Picture that if you can: Ken Hitchcock the house maid. Hope you already lunch to go with that mental picture.

Barry Trotz not being a guy to give someone else the upper hand, zinged Hitchcock right back:

“If I’m Darth Vader, he has to be Lex Luther [sic] right now.”

Darth Vader, Lex Luthor… All right, then who’s The Joker?

On Ken Hitchcock’s evolving hockey philosophy

Ken Hitchcock
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Interesting read courtesy NHL.com on Ken Hitchcock’s hockey philosophy. The new St. Louis coach shared a bit of what he wants to see out of his team as he takes over from Davis Payne.

Two key words for the Blues are “tempo” and “transition.”

The tempo part is self-explanatory — Hitchcock wants things done quickly at both ends of the ice. It’s not the style he coached in Dallas, where he’s said the Stars “played like an old dog. We just sat back and let you make mistakes and then we buried you.”

The NHL has changed over the years.

“To me, transition … the whole game has to be played behind people,” he said. “It’s not so much chipping it in, it’s just making people turn. That’s the whole focus of the game. If everybody’s on that page, then you play faster. You don’t slow down to make a play.”

Puck possession is another important element of Hitchcock’s philosophy. Think Detroit, Chicago, San Jose and Vancouver. Those teams will almost always choose to carry the puck into the attacking zone versus dumping it in and chasing.

Of course, not every team can play that way. It takes puck movers on defense, intelligent and talented forwards, and speed all around.

Fortunately for Hitchcock, the Blues have the pieces in place to make his philosophy work. The question now is whether they’ll buy in.