To coach or not to coach

TERRY JONES, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 7:26 AM ET

HALIFAX -- One guy doesn't need a coach. The other guy has never needed coaching more than he does right now.

The contrast between Rick Nash and Jason Spezza at the IIHF World Championship has proved to be considerable for two players who seem to have so much in common.

Quotes from Team Canada coach Ken Hitchcock here yesterday made the contrast even more dramatic.

Nash, a first draft pick in 2002 who scored 38 goals with 69 points this season with Hitchcock's Columbus Blue Jackets, has with four goals and three assists and has been a dominant force for Team Canada on the first line.

DEMOTED

Spezza, a second pick in the 2001 draft who scored 34 goals with 92 points this year with the Ottawa Senators, has a single assist so far in the tournament and has been demoted to the fourth line where his ice time by periods against Norway Thursday were 2:24, 3:41 and 0:47.

Nash, who was the MVP of the tournament in Moscow in leading Canada to a gold medal last year and scored the winning goal late against Norway on a do-it-yourself project, plays for Hitchcock in Columbus.

"Once or twice in your lifetime you get to coach a player like Rick Nash," said Hitchcock.

"You never have to worry if he's going to show up and play. He's the easiest guy I've ever had to coach."

Sitting on a couch in the lobby of the Nova Scotia Westin here yesterday during a Team Canada day off prior to playing Germany today, Hitchcock wasn't making the comparison between the two players. But in answering questions about both, it was there.

"I think Jason Spezza has reached the stage of his career where he really wants to be coached. To this point I think he's done it mostly on talent. But I think he now realizes he needs more than that natural talent to go to another level.

"I can see here that he wants to be coached. He wants information. I think he's come to the realization that he needs coaching help to get better," said Hitchcock, who says he finds Spezza a very likeable young man who despite the ice time, has been much a part of the team concept, supporting his teammates strongly.

It may be a recent revelation to Spezza that he needs help to get better.

Nash needs help to get better, too. What a difference it would make if he had Dany Heatley to play with in Columbus like Spezza has in Ottawa.

"Nash is only 23 years old. People forget that. He's 23 years old and he went over 50 straight games this year when he wasn't on for a goal while killing penalties," said Hitchcock. "You don't coach him. You tell him. He gets it. He does it. He's one of those rare players you don't have to be coaching up all the time."

What Nash needs now is what only the Columbus Blue Jackets can give him - people to play with.

"Scott Howson and myself have to help him," said Hitchcock.

Nash did it by himself to score the winning goal against Norway. And Hitchcock saw him do that with players draped all over his back, again and again, this season.

"I saw seven of them this year," he said of that kind of goal. "Guys all over him. He has determination and skill."

THRIVING

Nash, who hasn't had world class linemates to play with in Columbus, has been thriving on playing with top players like Joe Thornton, Shane Doan and this year, Ryan Getzlaf and Spezza's Ottawa teammate Dany Heatley.

And Nash has adapted as well as anybody to playing the very different game that's played by the European teams, even on the smaller NHL-sized rink being used in this tournament.

"This is a different sort of game than Jason is used to," said Hitchcock. "He's learning to play a different game. In this tournament you play a lot of teams who play a retreating type of defense, a kind of an umbrella defense you just don't see playing in the NHL."

You get the idea that Hitchcock is thrilled to have a player he doesn't have to coach and would love to get his hands on Spezza ... to coach him.


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