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Players say coaching staff deserves a lot of credit

by Rob Mixer / Columbus Blue Jackets

Much of the credit surrounding the Blue Jackets' dramatic turnaround in 2012-13 rightfully goes to the players in the dressing room - namely goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky - but the players were quick to point out another deserving party.

When the season could have easily gone off the rails in late February with the Blue Jackets sporting a 5-12-2 record and occupying last place in the Western Conference, the club needed a steady hand that could reinforce the positives from the first month of the season. The Blue Jackets found themselves on the wrong end of seemingly countless one-goal games and were gripping the sticks tight, but they found a way through it.

James Wisniewski, a guy who has been around the NHL for a few years and played for different kinds of coaches, was particularly impressed with how positive and supportive Todd Richards and his coaching staff were through some of the roughest patches of the season.

Rather than making drastic changes and looking for a shake-up, Richards kept morale high and kept the group focused on one game at a time. As is well-known by now, the Blue Jackets used that approach to climb back into the playoff picture and leave the basement faster than a kid scared of the dark.

"They really just let us be the group that we had, and formed and molded their coaching styles to what we had," Wisniewski said. "You can ask anyone: we obviously weren't the most talented group on the ice, but you couldn't beat our work ethic and that just showed we really were a blue-collared, hard-working team.

"We dedicated ourselves to really giving it our all on the ice and let the results show."

Veteran assistant coach Keith Acton, a defensive wizard during his NHL playing days, joined the club last offseason to work with the forwards and the penalty-killing unit with incumbent assistant Dan Hinote. Craig Hartsburg, a longtime assistant coach and also twice a head coach in the NHL, was hired as associate coach to work with an abundance of talented defensemen in Columbus.

Acton and Hinote teamed up to make a big impact in the specialty teams department and engineer a scheme and approach that resulted in the NHL's 11th-best PK unit (82.6 percent), but at its foundation was a hard-working mentality that everyone bought into.

"We really became a close-knit group, a legit family and we really cared for each other," Wisniewski said. "We cared more about just winning games than individual success.

"The hard thing to get is the work ethic. You can always buy talent, but for (new players) to come in and buy into giving it your all every shift is the tough part. We developed the core belief that every night, we're going to bring it. That's highly contagious; when we get someone highly talented, we'll make them buy into it, too."

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