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Coaches Forming Partnership with Fans

by Chuck Massarolo / Columbus Blue Jackets

Hockey is known for its players flying across the ice performing no look passes that set up highlight reel goals. The plays that stick in a fan’s mind are goals like the one scored by Rick Nash last season against Phoenix, where he beat two defenders and powered through a poke-check from the goaltender before putting it in the back of the net.

Fans enjoy the offensive part of the game, but defense seems to get overlooked. That is something the Blue Jackets coaching staff has set out to change, not only with its players but throughout the hockey community.

"Our whole focus is giving back," said Head Coach Ken Hitchcock. "Somebody gave us this information so we could pass it on and if we received that information when we started coaching youth hockey, it's our obligation – and I think every coach feels the same way – to give back. So when we get that opportunity we want to do it."

With that in mind, the staff has committed itself to passing on its knowledge of the game and their systems to the fans. Some of the things the coaching staff has put together are coaching symposiums and an on-line segment throughout the season on www.BlueJackets.com entitled "Breaking Down the Game."

"(Hockey's) like any sport. If you play good defense in basketball, you win. If you play good defense in baseball, you win." - Head Coach Ken Hitchcock

"I think that knowledge is power and knowing about the game and its nuances does nothing but help everybody," said Hitchcock. "It helps us get people to understand the game and it helps the coaches become better coaches."

Giving the knowledge back extends far beyond the coaching of the players. It also includes helping explain to fans the logic, reasoning and strategy about what is going on throughout the game. One of the ways the staff has been able to do this is by utilizing technology and the internet to show how the systems and strategies employed by the Jackets works in game situations.

"Breaking Down the Game" segments began airing on Jackets TV at www.BlueJackets.com in December and will continue through the conclusion of the season. They are designed to give a brief four to five minute synopsis of key plays during a previous game to help fans recognize different situations.

"I think it just brings (the fans) closer to how we do things," said Hitchcock. "I think people, especially in this community, don't want to just go out and cheer. They want to know why things are happening so I think the video breakdown allows people an inside look at what we are thinking, what we are doing on the ice and how it is working."

The staff is also giving youth and amateur hockey coaches the opportunity to develop their coaching skills through free symposium's that last two hours and consists of four 30-minute segments where Hitchcock and the rest of the coaching staff discuss hockey strategy and drills in-depth. The topics discussed are chosen by the attendees in advance and the staff presents ideas that can be incorporated into hockey programs for all age levels. The third and final symposium this year will talk about the importance of leadership, team building and goaltending. Previous symposiums have discussed practice planning, power play, penalty kill, coaching communication and other principles to help develop young players.

"I think the symposiums that we have going are just intimate knowledge of what we are thinking in playing our game," said Hitchcock. "It's just a sharing of information."

One of the biggest things stressed in all three of these programs is defensive hockey. It is something that Hitchcock thinks is one of the most confusing parts of the game for casual hockey fans.

"Defensive hockey is really just competing and checking," said Hitchcock. "I don't think people understand it. They talk about how it is boring. For us, as coaches, we are the exact opposite. When we talk about the fact that teams are good defensively it means that they check well and they compete hard. That is what a mark of a good coach is."

Watch a professional basketball game and one finds that the team playing a suffocating defense and limiting its fouls usually wins more games than they lose. Fans appreciate good defensive play such as collapsing to the post and good technique when boxing out. In hockey, the same principles apply, yet teams that play a solid defensive game can find themselves drawing the ire of the crowd.

"(Hockey's) like any sport. If you play good defense in basketball, you win. If you play good defense in baseball, you win," said Hitchcock. "It's the same in hockey. It's a compliment in those sports and in our (coaches) eyes. It's a compliment, but I think a lot of fans see it as a negative."

The goal of these programs is to help hockey fans from the casual to die-hard learn about the strategy and what goes into the game. The more people know about the game, the more they will enjoy it.

"I don't think you can be successful in this business if you don't have a partnership with your fans," said Hitchcock. "I don't think you can just expect people to come to the building and cheer without allowing them the inner circle of information of what you are trying to do. I think they want to know what we are doing and I think it's important that we keep them informed."

See below to learn more about, or to register for, the programs discussed in this article:

"Breaking Down the Game"visit Blue Jackets TV throughout the rest of the season. The team currently has 17 segments planned from February through April.

Coaching Symposium – This program is geared for youth and amateur hockey coaches of all age groups throughout Ohio. It will be held on Monday, February 9 from 7-9 p.m. The Blue Jackets coaching staff covers many topics and speaks to the general population so coaches from all ages and skill level can incorporate the topics discussed into their organizations. Topics currently on the agenda for the symposium include: importance of leadership, team building concepts and goaltending. The symposium is free, but advanced registration is required. For more information or to register e-mail Gordy Haggard or call 614-246-4309.

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