Originally posted on Fox Sports Midwest  |  Last updated 11/7/11
ST. LOUIS -- Despite coaching 1,042 games in the NHL and winning a Stanley Cup and two Olympic Gold Medals, new Blues coach Ken Hitchcock believes his best coaching is still ahead of him. Fresh off a 21-month break that he said rejuvenated all aspects of his life, the 59-year-old Hitchcock took over a Blues team Monday looking for their first playoff win since 2004. The Blues fired Davis Payne Sunday night and replaced him with the veteran Hitchcock after a disappointing 6-7 start left them 14th in the Western Conference. "I've learned over time as a coach that as you get older, the game changes," Hitchcock said. "I think I'm as current or more current as anybody in the National Hockey League at understanding what changes have taken place, not only with the style of the game but in the dealing with the personnel. "This time away for me has really been a godsend. It's helped me heath wise, it's helped me physically, it's helped me emotionally I'm energized and I'm excited." The upgrade in experience the Blues get behind the bench is unquestioned, going from one of the youngest coaches in the NHL to one of the oldest and most successful. Hitchcock has coached 14 NHL seasons with the Dallas Stars, Philadelphia Flyers and Columbus Blue Jackets, posting a .588 winning percentage in the regular season. He's guided six teams to division titles, surpassed 100 points eight times and made nine playoff appearances in his 12 full seasons. Fired by Columbus in February 2010, Hitchcock remained on with the Blue Jackets as a consultant before quickly agreeing to terms with the Blues late Sunday afternoon. "One of the things I did over the last year and a half was study every team closely," Hitchcock said. "I have a six or eight game report on every team. The Jackets gave me permission to go into the arena to observe other teams, and I took scouting reports off that. I had a big advantage this year which really helped me. "I've watched every team play at least four games this year very closely and I've done that in preparation for the next gig. I assumed that if I went to a team, I'd better be ready on the scouting report on every team and not have to count on a coaching staff to provide me with the information. I better have that knowledge myself. I've done a lot of work on prepping what they do well and what we need to do to beat them." Hitchcock becomes the fourth Blues coach in six years. He'll be the third straight to make his debut mid-season against the Chicago Blackhawks at home when the Blues host the division rivals Tuesday night. The Blues have seen several key players get off to slow starts this season. Goalie Jaroslav Halak is 1-6 with a 3.35 GAA while Chris Stewart (three points) and Patrik Berglund (5 points) have been disappointing as well. "I think my job is to get the best players here to play their best and get everybody else to follow suit," Hitchcock said. "And I think I can do that. I think I can provide the game plan and the structure and the discipline that allows the top players to set direction here. I've had great success in working with top guys and getting them to play and I think there's a lot of potential for a lot of guys to be top players here." In addition to scouting the rest of the league and learning new adjustments to the current game, the time away allowed Hitchcock a chance to get in better shape both physically and mentally. The coach joined a physical fitness program called CrossFit that helped him form better eating habits and get into better shape. Those in attendance at Monday's press conference noticed a much slimmer Hitchcock from his previous days behind the bench. "You're in the business so long that you don't even know what type of stressful situations you are under," Hitchcock said. "You have no idea. You just live day-to-day. I was able to do some other things in my life. I've got friends outside of hockey for the first time in my life. I've loved it. "It's a stressful job and you need a break sometimes. This break has been wonderful for me. It's been a chance for me to do other things in my life." It appears the time off was well spent by Hitchcock, who also studied and learned how to coach younger athletes while offering up advice to his 25 former players who are currently coaching in both Canada and the United States. Hitchcock knows turning the Blues into a winner won't be easy. But with a new outlook and a clean slate, the veteran appears just the man for the challenge. "It's given me a fresh approach to things," Hitchcock said. "I'm an older guy now and I've spent a ton of time understanding how older guys coach younger kids and in particular, a couple coaches in the Canadian Football League and studying how they have benefited from their expertise. "I've been able to do that stuff. It's really refreshed me. It's going to make me an even better coach than I was before."
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