Thursday, September 12, 2013

Coach's first day of camp goes off without a 'Hitch'

Hitchcock opens first camp with Blues in
third season; players eager to begin anew

ST. LOUIS -- After coaching them for 117 regular season games and another 15 playoff games, Blues coach Ken Hitchcock was finally able to step onto the ice for his first training camp practice Thursday afternoon.

The 61-year-old Hitchcock, who was hired a month into the 2011-12 season, was obviously not around in training camp that year, then with the lockout last season, there was no training camp for any of the 30 teams.

Hitchcock, who is 71-32-14 as coach of the Blues with two playoff appearances, has the luxury of implementing a system the players can absorb before the season-opener Oct. 3 vs. Nashville. It all got underway at Scottrade Center.

Blues coach Ken Hitchcock begins his third season with the team but his
first raining camp. Here he's watching drills on Thursday.
"I think you get to put a lot of your details into the games," Hitchcock said after Thursday's opening two sessions. "I think you get to put in details that you're not scrambling in the first couple weeks of the season to try to get in. We've got lots of time to practice.

"I really liked the fact that the attention from the veteran players really pushed the level of both groups pretty high. You almost could see who could and couldn't do it right off the bat and who's going to see if they can keep up in the following day. We're going to get an evaluation test with the heart rate monitors here after three days. That'll give us a further conditioning level, but overall, we themed every day. Today was obviously a lot of o-zone play, attacks and stuff like that. Tomorrow will be a different structure. Day three will be different. Just getting the chance to put this much detail in before the start of the season I think can't hurt right now. The way we pick things up right now is pretty impressive."

Veteran defenseman Barret Jackman praised his coach for the way he handled himself in what was regarded as Hitchcock's initiation into camp in St. Louis.
"I think with two years without training camp, I think he's done a great job of teaching the systems," Jackman said. "I think all of our coaching staff is really good at going over video and preparing us. Now to actually have three weeks to get a lot of the younger guys and newer guys up to speed is only going to help.

"It's the same anticipation that you get before every season. You get so geared up the first day of fitness testing, everything is exciting and you got that competition. The first few days of camp, you want to get off on the right foot. It's the same thing. Going into exhibition games, you're going to have time to prepare and get into a rhythm. We're all pretty excited that we get that extra time this year."

Captain David Backes calls the first day of camp a nervous day.

"The first day is always kind of goofy for me," Backes said. "I think there's a lot of nerves for the younger guys and the ice deteriorated pretty quickly out there with all the bodies on the ice.

"But good to be back. It's good to see the faces and get the work done. But it's day one of a very long journey in which we're going to take things day by day and go through the process of building our team to be successful more often than not."

Blues coach Ken Hitchcock instructs players during the first day of
training camp on Thursday at Scottrade Center.
T.J. Oshie has been through these in St. Louis before. Just not under Hitchcock.

Drills were brisk, the pace was high and coaches were observant.

"We're just being very thorough for everything that we're doing," Oshie said. "Instead of going over kind of a large range of things, we're focusing on attacks, we're focusing on breakouts, getting out of the zone fast. We're focusing on neutral zone counters. We go do them in depth in the videos and then translate that onto the ice."

And then there's Ty Rattie, the team's second round pick in 2011 who got to partake in his second camp with the Blues playing on a line with Backes and Alexander Steen.

"So far, so good," Rattie said. "I think the first day's always tougher on the nerves going out there, but it's over now. You learn what you got today and apply it to your game tomorrow.

"Everybody's trying to make the roster here. It's obviously going to be hard with a deep St. Louis team here, but you've got to go out there, impress the right people and play your game, play Hitchcock's game and let it go from there."

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