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Hitchcock determined to build Blues into winner

by Louie Korac
ST. LOUIS -- It became quite clear that the St. Louis Blues wanted someone experienced to guide a ship that seemed to be veering off-course.

After the firing of Davis Payne on Sunday night, the Blues introduced Ken Hitchcock on Monday as the 24th coach in team history.

The Blues, who enter the week 6-7-0 and in 14th place in the Western Conference, have not gotten off to the start that people within the franchise had hoped. There was much hype about the Blues making that jump into the upper echelon of the Western Conference teams, but it hasn't quite worked out that way, and general manager Doug Armstrong received the blessing from ownership and team president John Davidson to make a change.

"I felt that where we are at right now, we needed an experienced coach," Armstrong said, "someone that can guide this younger team to the area that it wants to go to.

"I just felt that I wanted a certainty of a head coach with a proven track record, a winner, to push these young players and push this organization to the next level. I think it was very important that we didn't wait around. I had that feeling." -- Blues GM Doug Armstrong

"I just felt that I wanted a certainty of a head coach with a proven track record, a winner, to push these young players and push this organization to the next level. I think it was very important that we didn't wait around. I had that feeling."

In parts of 14 seasons as a coach with the Stars, Philadelphia Flyers and Columbus Blue Jackets, Hitchcock, 59, has 534 wins, 14th on the all-time list. He led the Stars to the 1999 Stanley Cup, and back to the Stanley Cup Final the following season. His teams have won 40 or more games nine times, he's won six division titles and eclipsed 100 points eight times. He also was an assistant coach for Team Canada at the 2002 and 2010 Winter Olympics.

Armstrong was the assistant GM in Dallas in the Stanley Cup season, as well as with Team Canada at the 2010 Olympics.

Hitchcock hasn't worked behind a bench since he was fired by the Blue Jackets during the 2009-10 season. Since then, he had been a consultant for the Jackets. His name had been linked to various jobs around the League, and he indicated that he had interviewed with four different NHL teams over the summer, without naming the teams.

Armstrong received permission from the Blue Jackets on Sunday to speak with Hitchcock about the Blues' job, and a deal was consummated quickly.


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Hitchcock signed a contract through the 2012-13 season.

"This happened very quickly for me," Hitchcock said. "It's still a little bit of a whirlwind. I'm still trying to figure out how I got down I-70 (from Columbus) to get here. But I am really proud and excited for the opportunity, and for me, my strength is building teams, building accountability within the framework of teams. I'm a big believer in a certain style of game. There are certain teams in the West that play that similar style and I believe and trust it. I've seen it in place, not only in the National Hockey League but in the Olympics, and I've seen how it works. I want to put that program in place."

Hitchcock said being able to watch games for the last year has been helpful in re-energizing him.

"This time away for me has really been a godsend," Hitchcock said. "It's helped me health-wise, it's helped me physically, it's helped me emotionally. I'm energized and I'm excited.

"If I can get through this press conference without stumbling much, I'd like to get back to the coach's room where I belong and get back to work with the guys back there."

Among Hitchcock's new players is Jason Arnott, who played against the veteran coach and the Stars in the 2000 Stanley Cup Final and scored the Cup-clinching goal for the New Jersey Devils.

"I don't like Jason Arnott ... he's broken my heart," Hitchcock said with a laugh. "I'll never forget that."

Armstrong, who said he likes to have a list of five names in mind when faced with potentially making a change, said choosing Hitchcock was a no-brainer.

"He's got a great resume, his experience from the Stanley Cup, participating in the Finals, being in the semifinals twice, Olympic champion twice, a World Cup champion, also working for Team Canada as the head coach and silver medalist ... his resume is impeccable, as I said, and we're very excited to have him," Armstrong said. "When you're going through this process, you have to look at all the potential candidates.

"... You never know what's going to happen health-wise or feeling the need to change, so Ken was on that list. I shared names and I shared philosophies with John. We talked extensively and we came back to Ken's resume and what he's accomplished. I've seen him first-hand as an assistant manager mold a team."

Current Blues forward Jamie Langenbrunner played in Dallas for Hitchcock, who also guided Chris Stewart, Alex Pietrangelo and Carlo Colaiacovo with Team Canada.

The Blues have had a number of issues in the early going. Their special teams are among the worst in the League (the power play ranks 30th and penalty kill is 27th) and No. 1 goalie Jaroslav Halak has gotten off to a rough start (1-6-0, 3.35 goals-against average, .856 save percentage).

When asked how long it would take to improve the power play, Hitchcock replied, "One practice. We'll get that fixed quick."

Armstrong met with Payne on Sunday night and indicated the Blues' plans to him in a face-to-face meeting.

"Davis is an excellent young coach that is going to have a great career ahead of him," Armstrong said. "They have one of the best coaches in the history of our game. He's going to put up one of the best game plans on a nightly basis. And the responsibility is for them to perform. I thought this was a time to put that challenge on their plates."

Hitchcock was on the ice with his team Monday afternoon in preparation for Tuesday's home game with the Chicago Blackhawks. Coincidentally, Hitchcock and his predecessors (Payne and Andy Murray) all debuted with the Blues against the Blackhawks.

"I want us to be proud of the way we play the game," said Hitchcock, who said he will retain the rest of the coaching staff -- assistant coaches Brad Shaw, Ray Bennett and Scott Mellanby, and goaltending coach Corey Hirsch. "I think at the end of the day, I want people in St. Louis to say, 'Man, that team plays the right way.'

"There's a way to play (and) win in the League. You see the top four teams in each conference, seven of the top eight play exactly the same game. And I want us to play that game and I think we're capable of it and I think we can make those adjustments really quickly, and get into that style of game right away."
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