One of the toughest weeks in the history of the Columbus Blue Jackets is coming to an end. General Manager Scott Howson had to make the difficult decision to relieve head coach Ken Hitchcock of his duties on Wednesday. That ended the era of a man who arrived several years ago and gave supreme credibility to Columbus as a hockey market. A Stanley Cup winning coach who came to town with a plan to give the team an identity, had his time cut shorter than he would've liked. That being said, Ken Hitchcock's contributions to this franchise will last a long, long time.
In making the decision to appoint Claude Noel as the Interim Head Coach, Howson put in place a man who's spent the majority of his career in the minor leagues, working with young, up and coming players. He started at the East Coast Hockey League level, worked his way up as an assistant, before becoming a head coach in the American Hockey League and then joined Ken Hitchcock's staff in 2007. He won a Calder Cup with the Milwaukee Admirals (Nashville Predators affiliate) in the spring of 2004 and also led his team to the championship round in 2006. Claude has a great relationship with the players on the current roster and has as good a chance as anyone to get the most out of them the rest of the way.
One game doesn't save the season, but Noel's first game had the team showing a lot of promise. It wasn't a high scoring affair, but the players gave an all-out effort for 60 minutes, something that has been lacking for most of the season. The main message for the team is, "have fun and play hard." You may wonder why a professional player has to be reminded to have fun since they're playing a game. The truth is, there's a ton of pressure to perform every night. This is their livelihood, not just a pick-up game at a local rink. Sometimes they put too much pressure on themselves and when additional pressure is applied, you don't always get the result you're looking for. Claude Noel will stress that his team follow the game plan, but enjoy themselves while doing it. Will it result in enough wins to make the playoffs? Time will tell.
It will be a big challenge, but when you're having fun and winning, it doesn't seem like work anymore.
*Throughout the season, AAA will bring you the Broadcaster's Blogs - "Bobby Mac", "Davidge Dishes" and "Rimer Ramblings." The Columbus Blue Jackets radio and television analysts will try to keep you updated on all the season action through their blogs, especially when the Blue Jackets are on the road.