Hitchcock's no mystery

STEVE MACFARLANE, CALGARY SUN

, Last Updated: 10:25 AM ET

Don't call the Columbus Blue Jackets a pushover.

At least not anymore.

Since new head coach Ken Hitchcock was hired last week, the team has lost two one-goal games and defeated the Minnesota Wild 5-3 while competing at a much higher level than they did coming out of the gate with a 5-13-2 start under Gerard Gallant.

Gallant recently left the Columbus organization, unable to handle the hefty praise heaped on Hitchcock over the apparent upswing. But the difference has been obvious on the ice and even moreso in the dressing room.

"I'm not sure how much we've changed because I was only able to see the team on video but we're playing well," said Hitchcock yesterday. "We're not easy points anymore and that's our goal.

"On the road, we want to come into the building and the team says, 'Look, these are going to be hard points for us to get.' We're getting closer that way, we're getting a lot closer. There's going to come a time pretty quickly here where getting points from this team (isn't) going to be guaranteed anymore."

Hitchcock was fired as the Flyers' head coach earlier this season after a similarly terrible opening month in Philadelphia but his strengths are what the young Blue Jackets up-and-comers need.

The team is loaded with talent, especially offensively, but sound two-way hockey is a necessity to winning.

So is confidence, which veteran Sergei Fedorov says Hitchcock has re-established in the dressing room.

"I think it did change. Hitch brought us confidence. He absolutely knows what he's talking about. The details have been pretty amazing," said Fedorov.

"He definitely brought that mentality that we have to play as a group first.

"He addresses those issues every day. That's what we need. He's been tremendous for us."

Known for his military-like discipline and demanding nature, Hitchcock's influence is already evident.

Yesterday's game-day skate at the Saddledome was considered optional but every Blue Jacket took part.

Hard work isn't always attached to fun but Manny Malhotra says that part will follow in due time.

"It's been an intense time but you can see things coming around a little bit more," said the Jackets centre.

"We're just playing more sound hockey now. With the wins will come the fun."

Hitchcock has never been involved in a building process quite like this one. He's had success -- including a Stanley Cup with the Stars in 1999 -- with veteran teams in Dallas and Philly.

"We're dealing with respectability here," Hitchcock said.


Videos

Photos