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Dose of Reality #16

December 13, 2006

Dose of Reality

Another game, another victory! Yes, I wrote that. What’s gotten into me? Am I overconfident or irrational, transferring Buckeye fever to the local hockey team?

Something that jumps out when you watch the Blue Jackets play under Hitchcock is that they have confidence in themselves and their teammates and they have faith in Ken Hitchcock’s system. The confidence is easy to see and measure. The system is a little tougher to see.

Staying with the first point, the players no longer hit the panic button every time an opponent skates near them with a cross look on their face. They are now calmly analyzing the situation, evaluating the options, and executing. This all might sound like BS from me and that I am over-analyzing things, but this is what NHL players do. What the team has done is raise its collective panic point and is making much better decisions with the puck. No longer do you see them pass the puck to a covered forward along the wall, or shoot the puck off the glass to get it out of their own end, or simply dump the puck down the ice and settle for an icing to relieve pressure. The team is now looking to make a play or set of plays with the puck, be it a pass, cycling, reverse, or overloading a lane.

In regards to the system, that is harder to observe. I don’t see anyone hanging out at a blue line waiting for a long pass. I see players covering the nearest opponent and staying with them until puck possession is established. I see shorter and faster shifts. These things might be Hitchcock’s system, but they are things that hockey players learn to do as a pee wee and if they progress to the NHL they continue doing them in a much more refined manner. I think Hitchcock deserves a lot of credit for convincing the Blue Jackets to buy into that system and playing that way from start to finish.

Now I am looking forward to seeing Chicago, of all teams, come to town on Saturday. A game between two teams that got off to very bad starts, changed coaches, and rediscovered the joys and ways of winning. It will be a tough game, probably a little chippy with the Blackhawks still pissed off about Rusty Klesla’s hit on Tuomo Ruutu earlier in the year. It is, at this early point of the season, a “must win” game for both teams. The Jackets have to win against a division rival, a rival that is just as hot as they are, a rival that will be challenging them for the coveted eighth spot in the Western Conference. The Hawks have Martin Havlat back along with his new best friend Peter Bondra. And all of the pressure that is on the Blue Jackets is also on the Blackhawks. They have to show Columbus that they too, are back and not allow themselves to be outplayed by us.

It will be a lot of fun.

– Truth Serum

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