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Blues welcome NFL coach Rex Ryan to morning skate

by Louie Korac
ST. LOUIS -- Ken Hitchcock's clone made an appearance at Scottrade Center Saturday morning.

No, there's no twin brother for the veteran Blues coach, but judging by the physique and coaching mannerisms to a certain degree, New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan is a lot like Hitchcock in many ways.

Ryan is in town and will be a spectator tonight for a Central Division matchup between a matchup of the NHL's top team (the Blues) and the last-place Columbus Blue Jackets.

Ryan is in town visiting older brother Jim, who lives in St. Louis, and nephew James and was on hand for the morning skate Saturday.

"We're now in James' element and older brother Jim's element," Ryan said afterwards. "It was kind of neat. A sport is a sport and you're watching this team ... this is what I want for our football team to where everybody buys in. They have one all-star player and it's the backup goalie. That's incredible, and here they are having the best record in hockey.

"When you look at it, I think, 'Man, you coach this team like a football team.' And that's true. He spent a lot of time around football coaches as well. This is my first opportunity to really be around a great hockey coach, and clearly that's what he is."

When Hitchcock was coaching the Philadelphia Flyers, he would often spend time with friend Andy Reid and the Philadelphia Eagles' practices and absorbed a lot of teaching tools from those experiences.

"I've learned from football," Hitchcock said. "I've learned about the sense of timing, I've learned about preparation, I've learned about details from it. I spent that year with the Eagles and I learned a lot. I learned what we thought was attention to detail wasn't even close to what they do. I've learned about the discipline, I learned about how they coach people up hard and get people to respond that way.

"They're at a level above us. I knew (Ryan) was a big hockey fan. He lived with his mom in Toronto there for a long time. I knew he was a big hockey fan there. He talked about it a lot. He appreciates our sport and I think he likes our team and likes the way we play. Any time other people from other sports can be around your team, I think it energizes everybody in the building because it's nice to see other sports respect our sport. It was nice to see all the Cards hanging around here. It was good for us. It's good to see a guy like Rex and his family hang around."

New York Giants fan and New York native Kevin Shattenkirk jokingly said it would have been nice to look over and see Giants coach Tom Coughlin but appreciated the talk with Ryan.

"Coach Ryan is a very nice guy," Shattenkirk said. "I went up and chatted with him about the New York area and talking about when he played goalie when he was younger. He knows the game a little bit. He was just telling us to get to the playoffs and do what we do best.

"We had just a quick conversation, but he seemed like he was like a kid on the bench watching us play. He said he could feel how close our team was and how great our team chemistry seems. It's nice to get it from a guy like that."

Ryan, whose Jets missed the playoffs this past season after back-to-back appearances in the AFC Championship game, said hockey and football are a lot alike from a personnel standpoint.

"I have some kind of control when I'm on a field. I feel a little out of place here," Ryan joked. "The skill level of these guys is incredible.

"The odds of playing in the National Hockey League or the NFL, you have better odds of winning the lottery. That's how special these guys are. That's kind of neat watching them."

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With the teams at the opposite ends of the NHL standings, there's a sense that the top team can tend to have a bit of a letdown facing a team that hasn't had things together. But for the Blues, who will have a home-and-home series with the Blue Jackets this weekend, they can't have that mindset ... especially when they are trying to maintain their stay atop the NHL standings.

"The fortunate thing for us is we always know we get a battle when we play the Blue Jackets," Shattenkirk said. "There's a little bit of a rivalry factor there, especially with it being a divisional opponent. It keeps us on our toes.

"We know how good this team can be, how good Columbus can really play when they're at their best. There's a lot of threats on the team, so we can't sit back. All these points mean just as much for us. It's going to be important."

Hitchcock appreciates the attitude his team takes on a night in, night out basis.

"There's a sense of discipline here, but there's also attention to detail," Hitchcock said. "We don't let a pregame skate off the hook, we don't let a practice off the hook, we stop it. Everything is scripted. If we got the players to respond to that, I think that's what football is."

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The Blues will bring in a 28-4-4 home record against a team that's 9-20-4 away from the home confines of Nationwide Arena. The 28 wins matches the top spot in the NHL with Detroit and Hitchcock said the fan appreciation is an element that can't be overlooked.

"This is a crowd that's in their seats at 6:45," he said. "The game's at 7:08. This is a crowd that's in the seats at 6:45. This isn't a 7:15 crowd. I think that part really helps us. You come in and the place is full before the drop of the puck, I think that energizes any team, and I've seen that. It's not a lot different.

"It's the same in San Jose, it's the same in Detroit. They're in their seats. That helps the players a lot. It's a blue-collar team with a blue-collar crowd. Everybody comes and wants to see the start and they want to come see the puck get dropped. They're here early. I think our players feed off that energy. It's very relevant."
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