Wilson a Hitchcock fan

TERRY KOSHAN, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:27 AM ET

Ron Wilson doesn't coach against Ken Hitchcock as much as he did when both in were the same conference, but his respect for Hitchcock is no less.

Hitchcock and the Columbus Blue Jackets are at the Air Canada Centre tonight to face the Leafs. Hitchcock went into last night's game against the St. Louis Blues with 498 NHL coaching wins.

"Columbus is a much better team now," Wilson, the Maple Leafs coach, said. "They have been developing slowly and Ken Hitchcock has been doing a great job. Their goaltending has radically improved and that goes a long way in masking any other issues you have. They're a fairly big team, have good quickness. They're going to come in and bang and we have to be ready for it."

Steve Mason and Rick Nash aside, the Blue Jackets have other reasons why they could make the playoffs for the first time in team history. Several acquisitions last summer -- winger Kristian Huselius and defenceman Mike Commodore via free agency and centre R.J. Umberger in a trade -- have paid off. Forward Jason Williams has been a solid addition after coming over from the Atlanta Thrashers in a trade.

As for Hitchcock, it's no surprise that one of hockey's sharpest minds is closing in on a major milestone. One of Hitchcock's rituals is to arrive at Nationwide Arena in Columbus at 6 a.m. and sit in the rink's lower bowl, reading the newspaper and drinking a coffee.

"I love the solitude of the rink in the early morning," Hitchcock told the Columbus Dispatch. "I can think when it's that quiet. I sit there and soak it all up while I'm getting ready for the day to get rolling. You can feel the building and all the stories it has to tell, almost like it's alive."

Loose Leafs

Forward Boyd Devereaux may or may not get into his first game of the season tonight with the Leafs. "I just have to decide when (Devereaux plays)," Wilson said. "He has great speed and he is a good penalty killer. We can use that in our lineup." ... Jason Blake has seven points (four goals and three assists) in his past five games.


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