By Rick Gethin
The Hockey Writers
“Red line, back. Blue line, back. Far blue line, back. Far red line, back. And you have 45 seconds to do it. Get used to this drill. You’ll be doing it alot. Why? Because the legs feed the wolf, gentlemen. I can’t promise you we’ll be the best team. But we will be the best conditioned. That I can promise you”. ~ Miracle
1980 USA Olympic Hockey Coach Herb Brooks knew what it took to be a winner. There was a method to his madness that garnered the ultimate result, Olympic gold. Many players have grown up hearing the story of how Brooks led the US Men’s Hockey Team to stand tall on the world stage.
Am I comparing Ken Hitchcock to Herb Brooks? To some degree, I am. He has the same drive, determination and outlook on the game of hockey that Brooks had. He has a Stanley Cup ring that he won leading the Dallas Stars to the NHL’s penultimate stage. He has taken a team in Columbus and turned around the attitude in both the locker room and in the fan base to that of a winner. Have they won the Cup yet? No; not by a long shot. He has served notice that the same old complacency will not be tolerated any longer. He is not some brutal task-master, but he does expect 100% from his players every time they step on the ice.
The summer conditioning has already begun in earnest. Derick Brassard, Jared Boll, Derek Dorsett and Nick Holden have been working with personal trainer Rhonda Catt in the North Okanagan, British Columbia. Columbus Development Coach Tyler Wright trained with Catt when he was a player and knows her well. Strength and Conditioning Coach Barry Brennan works with CBJ players every summer to help get them ready for the grind of an 82 game regular season.
With the re-signing of Rick Nash to a long term contract during the summer off-season, the Captain has shown not only his team mates, but also any future free agents, that Columbus is a team to be taken seriously. He wants to be here and he wants to be the leader. From NHL.com; “Most teams have that one player that will always be there and believes in the team and is a main part of the team,” Nash said. “It was important that I did this (contract) with Columbus.”
The additions of one of the league’s best checking line centers in Sami Pahlsson and veteran netminder Mathieu Garon backing up Calder Trophy winner Steve Mason will have a tremendous impact on the depth of this team. Oh, and by the way, they both have Stanley Cup rings.
No longer will this team or the fans be content with just making the playoffs. Columbus GM Scott Howson on the upcoming season and beyond; “The expectation level goes up from both internally and from our fans,” Howson told NHL.com. “So no longer will a playoff berth and out in the first round be acceptable. We’ve got to raise the bar and that’s what we are trying to do here.”
The Columbus Blue Jackets know that the road to the Stanley Cup goes through Chiacgo (356 miles away) and Detroit (283 miles away) in the Central Division; arguably the toughest division in the league. Would I bet against the Blue Jackets for the 2009-2010 season? Not on your life. Respect is earned and these boys wearing Union Blue are well on their way.