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Ken Hitchcock's firing shocks Blues players

Mike Yeo takes over as coach in 'wake-up call'

by Louie Korac / Correspondent

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- St. Louis Blues players woke up Wednesday morning thinking it would be an ordinary day. But they were soon shocked to learn that coach Ken Hitchcock had been fired and replaced by coach-in-waiting Mike Yeo.

"I had no idea honestly," goaltender Jake Allen said. "I got up this morning, I got a message and I got the news. It never even crossed my mind. That's why it's turned into more of a shock, especially with only [32] games left. 

"It's a big change, but it's a wake-up call for us all. If we don't take this in a positive way, then it's not right."

Hitchcock, who has the fourth-most wins in NHL history with 781, was 248-124-41 in six seasons with St. Louis. He was 20-27 in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Blues (24-21-5), who finished first or second in the Central Division in each of Hitchcock's five full seasons, are fourth in the division with 53 points after losing 5-3 to the Winnipeg Jets and hold the second wild card into the playoffs from the Western Conference.

After coaching the Blues to the Western Conference Final last season, Hitchcock, 65, signed a one-year contract on May 31 and announced the 2016-17 season would be his last. Yeo, who was hired as associate coach on June 13 and signed a four-year contract, was scheduled to take over as coach next season.

Video: Players react to coaching change

Yeo, who coached the Minnesota Wild from 2011-16, will make his Blues debut against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Scottrade Center on Thursday (9 p.m. ET; FS-MW, TSN4, NHL.TV).

Along with Hitchcock, goalie coach Jim Corsi was fired. Assistant general manager Martin Brodeur, the NHL's all-time leader in victories by a goaltender with 691, and goalie developmental coach Ty Conklin will take over for Corsi.

"It's a decision that [Blues general manager Doug Armstrong] had to make," defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said. "It's hard. You never want to see that happen to anyone, but it seems like we need to shake things up a bit. We're obviously all very confident in coach Yeo and what he's shown us so far this year. It's going to be a bit of a fresh start for us moving forward, but as players, we have to look at ourselves as players, too. This isn't just a coaching problem. This is something that we have to fix in the locker room."

Captain Alex Pietrangelo said the presence of Yeo on Hitchcock's staff did not make things awkward for the Blues.

"There was no conflict of anything," Pietrangelo said. "Mike has been nothing but professional. He's been here helping [Hitchcock] the best he can. He's been here treating his role like an assistant coach, not like a head coach. He's said that from Day One and he's stuck to that. I'm going to keep saying that whoever thinks that there was a conflict of interest, there wasn't, because I was actually extremely impressed with the way Mike handled the situation. Obviously a unique one, but he was dealing with it in a solid way. None of us ever thought of it any differently."

Video: The guys analyze the coaching change in St. Louis

Shattenkirk acknowledged that the coaching arrangement was unusual.

"I know it was a bit of a funky situation with how ... it's something you don't really see around the League when a coach is in his last year and you have your future head coach there," Shattenkirk said. "It's something that was a tough situation. I think people always looked at that and looked [at it] as a solution because coach Yeo is here, and if he wasn't here, I don't know what we would be talking about the whole year. We'd be talking about if [Armstrong] is going to go out and find someone or if it's something we solve internally.

"I think [Armstrong] went out and got coach Yeo because he viewed him as a valuable asset. Not just now, but for the next few years to come. I think that's why he went out and got him. The intention wasn't to have him replace [Hitchcock] this year, but obviously this is the situation we're in."

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