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Vermette excels in fresh start with Blue Jackets

by John McGourty
The Columbus Blue Jackets are making a strong push for their first Stanley Cup Playoff berth, so they acquired Antoine Vermette from Ottawa on March 4 to strengthen their chances.

Vermette was a disappointment with the Senators this season, posting 9 goals and 19 assists in 62 games after totaling 24 goals and 29 assists in 81 games a season ago. But he shook off whatever doldrums he had to post 6 goals and 3 assists in his first 11 games with the Blue Jackets, including 2 goals to help Columbus beat Chicago, 5-3, on March 13.

"I have to give credit to the guys that are here," Vermette said. "They're playing well, although we'd like to get that (March 15) game back against Detroit (a 4-0 defeat in Columbus). We're just playing hard, playing together and that's making my adjustment easier. They made me welcome right from the start."

One reason Vermette is doing better is that Blue Jackets coach Ken Hitchcock switched him back to center, his natural position, after he played left wing for the Senators. Vermette is one of the best faceoff men in the NHL, and the Blue Jackets are taking advantage of those skills.

"I always said I feel more comfortable in the middle," Vermette said. "It's my natural position. When I came into the League Ottawa made me a winger. On the whole it's good to have different options, but I feel more comfortable here."

Vermette is third in the League in faceoffs, winning 58.2 percent. He's been good at it for a long time, but can't explain why, except to say he works hard on his skills.

"Why am I successful? That's a good question," Vermette said. "I just try to work hard. That's one thing I've tried to practice, going back even to juniors. I try to do the best I can and just work hard. I work on timing and the different aspects involved. It's been working for me lately.

"I try to pay attention to as many details of the game as I can because, collectively, a team is successful when it does the details the right way. So, I try to chip in in different aspects of the game."

"I always said I feel more comfortable in the middle. It's my natural position. When I came into the League, Ottawa made me a winger. On the whole it's good to have different options, but I feel more comfortable here."
-- Antoine Vermette

Hitchcock has been known to change lines frequently, but he's been using Vermette primarily on the second line, between left wing R.J. Umberger and right wing Jason Williams.
"Playing with Umberger and Williams has been good," Vermette said. "We have some guys on our line who can make plays and they have been working hard. They are both pretty smart players with and without the puck. I call them honest players and you have to give them credit. They're doing well."

Vermette has played with stars like Daniel Alfredsson, Dany Heatley and Jason Spezza, and now he's playing with former goal-scoring champion Rick Nash. He's impressed mostly with Nash's work ethic.

"Rick Nash is a naturally gifted player offensively," Vermette said. "He can make plays and he's a big guy that's strong on the puck. He gets a turnover and he makes you pay. I was talking about details and how important they will be coming down the stretch. Nash works hard in many areas of the game that you don't see on the scoring sheet. He's very good in his attention to details. He's putting in that extra effort to get the puck out of our end. Coming from the captain, that's a good influence on the rest of the group."

Vermette said he was given clear instructions on his role with the Blue Jackets by General Manager Scott Howson and Hitchcock.

"They both called me after the trade to wish me welcome and they were excited," Vermette said. "We're looking forward to a good playoff push. They talked to me about putting me in the middle where I would be more comfortable. They didn't go into too many details. They said they made the move for a reason and for me to do my thing and work hard and try to fit in.

"Hitchcock's style of play isn't difficult for me. I've seen other coaches doing the same thing in my career, including juniors. It's not something I've never seen before. Hitchcock is a demanding coach and he's doing a really good job with the organization since he got here. I knew it wasn't going to be easy coming to Columbus, but I'm happy to be part of a team that's competing so well."

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