It’s not every day that a Jack Adams Award winner drops in to run a college hockey team practice.
But that’s exactly what Ken Hitchcock, the Blues Head Coach and reigning NHL Coach of the Year, did for the Mizzou club hockey team on Sunday night at the Lindenwood Ice Rink in Wentzville.
For nearly 90 minutes, Hitchcock ran a brisk skate that taught Mizzou players the importance of positioning, timing, patience and much more.
“Obviously, everything we learned out here today we’re going to take into our practices. Hopefully it’s going to be a big transition and help us out a lot,” said Steve Kowalczyk, a senior forward from St. Louis. “It’s an unbelievable experience to be coached by one of the greats. I’m going to take what I learned and incorporate it into my game. Hopefully it’ll make me a better player after today.”
Hitchcock was joined on the ice by Blues Assistant Coach Ray Bennett and Blues Video Coach Danny Brooks. Blues TV color analyst Darren Pang, whose son Tyler is a senior defenseman on the club, worked with Mizzou Head Coach John Lamond to set up Sunday’s practice.
“I just asked John if he’d entertain the thought of having Ken Hitchcock come out. Hitch jumped on it right away, it wasn’t even a question,” Pang said. “That’s the kind of guy Hitch is, the kind of guy Brooks is and the kind of guy Ray Bennett is. It was an opportunity for these players to really experience not just an NHL coach, but a great NHL coach. Hitch is so good at explaining every facet (of the game), and I believe this group will take an awful lot from this practice.”
Last season, the Tigers won the Mid-America Collegiate Association’s Division 2 title and has hopes to repeat as champions again this season. So far, the club is off to a 3-3 start but hopes to get on a roll as it begins a big stretch of in-league games in the coming weeks. Lamond said he was happy to let the Blues’ coaching staff run the club’s practice as the team prepares for an important stretch of its season.
“Darren Pang and I had a long conversation about this, and we thought it was a wonderful idea,” Lamond said. “This group really benefits from having (Hitchcock’s) skill level and his coaching staff’s skill level out here. Most of these guys are Blues fans to boot and they all want to be better. When you can bring that kind of coaching, the best of the best, it’s just wonderful.”
While Hitchcock waits for the NHL season to begin, he is using opportunities like Sunday's to stay sharp.
“It’s important for us to stay active. You can’t just sit in the office and plan,” Hitchcock said. “Coaching is coaching. Just being able to work with athletes, the skill level is not relevant for us. What’s relevant is that they have fun. I think (the players) saw the detail in how we do stuff. We did drills with them that we do with our big club, and the players were good enough to do the drills.
"That was fun for us, but I think they’re going to be a little bit sore tomorrow.”
John Guminski, a senior Mizzou forward, said he was happy to take in everything Hitchcock and his staff had to say.
“Some of the stuff he’s telling us today…if I had heard that stuff 10 years ago, I don’t know where I’d be,” he said. “I could listen to him talk for weeks or months. It’s definitely mind-blowing how much he knows about the game.”
“To be on the ice with him, it’s just unreal to have that type of experience. You can’t even put it into words,” said Brooks, who will begin his first season as the Blues Video Coach when NHL hockey resumes. “There are very few Jack Adams winners, there are very few Olympic medal winners and very few World Championship coaches. Hitch happens to be triple gold, a Stanley Cup winner and a Jack Adams winner.
“To learn from him is a once in a lifetime opportunity.”
The Mizzou Hockey Club team plays its home games at the Washington Park Ice Arena in Jefferson City, MO. You can find them on Twitter @mizzouhockey or online at mizzouhockey.com.
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