LAS VEGAS -- He's a Civil War buff, a history buff, and now a first-time winner of the Jack Adams Award at 60 years old.
However, Ken Hitchcock got to the stage at the Encore Theater on Wednesday to collect his first coach of the year award in a NHL career that dates back 17 years because he forgot about history and his age and instead dedicated himself to becoming more in tune and current with today's youth.
Without intensely studying the ins and outs and intricacies of Generation Y, Hitchcock isn't so sure he would have been able to relate to the St. Louis Blues, a team that has an average age of 27.2. If he couldn't relate, there's no way the Blues would have gone 43-15-11 under Hitchcock after he took over for Davis Payne on Nov. 6.
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"I know the Xs and Os, but I study people. I pride myself in studying people," Hitchcock said at the 2012 NHL Awards show at the Wynn Las Vegas. "I've worked hard at my craft. I just don't go into coach's clinics and look at Xs and Os and power play and penalty killing. I got to millennial seminars for kids. I talk to junior coaches all the time and get updated on when the changes are there. I talk to military people who have cadets going through the same issues that our kids are. I study people and I pride myself in staying current."
Hitchcock went on to say that he likes the music that today's young people listen to. He said he watches Paladia TV, a high definition channel showcasing the best music of today's generation, for four to five hours a day.
"The players laugh like crazy," Hitchcock said, "but I love that channel."
Of course, the perception of Hitchcock when he was fired by Columbus late in the 2009-10 season was that he was old school and couldn't relate to today's youth. Blues general manager Doug Armstrong, whose relationship with Hitchcock dates back to their days in Dallas during the mid-to-late 1990s, found out during his research of Hitchcock that the perception of the coach was about as far from reality as possible.
Hitchcock made the new reality happen.
"You start to scratch on the surface and I found what he was doing when he wasn't coaching," Armstrong said. "He didn't go into the media. He didn't just sit back and wait for a job. He was out there coaching youth hockey, spending time in the American Hockey League, doing clinics all across Canada. I think he got energized to get back in the game and he was also current, much more current than I am with the Twitter world and all those other things. He'll say he's not, but I know he knows how to stay current with that."
Hitchcock does because he finds it is the best way to relate to today's player. He has to sell his product to them and then they have to buy in.
That's not always that easy anymore.
"More than anything I'm fascinated by this age group because Generation Y, the big thing is why. They ask that question every day," Hitchcock said. "They just don't do what they're told or do what they want, they want to know why. This generation is making us as coaches more accountable than we've ever been in our life. And, if they don't buy what we're selling then they're not going to go and play for you."
So why did the Blues buy what Hitchcock was selling, so much so that they set all kinds of franchise records, including most wins (49) and points (109).
"The success we had in the first week," Hitchcock said.
In Hitchcock's first week as coach, the Blues collected seven of eight points with wins over Chicago, Detroit and Tampa Bay along with a shootout loss to Toronto.
"If we didn't have that success I think we would have had a battle all year, but we were great right out of the gate and everybody found this way to play," Hitchcock said.
Jaroslav Halak, who along with Brian Elliott collected the William M. Jennings Trophy on Wednesday. "It's easy when you win the first game to buy in."
The system that Hitchcock calls "volume offensive hockey" due to the amount of time they try to spend in the offensive zone worked until they ran into the Kings in the Western Conference Semifinals. L.A. swept the Blues en route to winning the Stanley Cup.
"The only time we got stung all year is when L.A. made us spend time in our end zone, more time than we had been spending," Hitchcock said. "It was the first time the game was 50-50 and we weren't big enough in the back end to control what they did. But all year long we played volume hockey and it was very successful."
Hitchcock isn't so sure it would have been had he not spent his time away from the NHL studying the generation of players who are currently in the NHL and trying to make it there.
"That's the part of our sport that fascinates me," Hitchcock said. "It's not the winning and losing. I can deal with that. To me it's learning about the composite of the group and understanding what makes certain players tick, understanding that you better be prepared to change. (The players) have changed a lot. You've gotta adapt. I really pride myself on that."
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