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April 13, 2009

Ken Hitchcock

Rick Nash

DAVID KEON: Good afternoon, everyone. Our guest today is Columbus Blue Jackets' Captain, Rick Nash. Thanks to Rick for taking the time to join us and answer your questions. Thanks to the Blue Jackets public relations department for arranging this call. On Thursday at the Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, the Blue Jackets will play their first playoff game in franchise history. Rick led the team in scoring this season, recording career single season highs in assists with 39, and points with 79. His 40 goals were only one off his single season high set in 203?2004, and his 40 goals also placed him tied for fifth among all NHL goal scorers this season. Again, thanks to Rick for taking the time to join us and answer your questions.

Q. Do you look at this as you have nothing to lose? You're going in the first time team, and you're playing the Red Wings, the Stanley Cup championship. There's all the pressure on them, and virtually none on you?
RICK NASH: Yeah, we're in it to win just like the other 16 teams. We didn't come this far to just kind of throw our gear on and go out and play. But we know what we've got in front of us. We've got the best team in the League, some of the best players in the League. They know what it takes to win the Stanley Cup. And we're going to have our hands full. And, you know, it's going to be a tough series for us, and we're going to need everybody to be their best.

Q. You've scored goals against the Detroit Red Wings though, if I'm not mistaken? You don't have too much trouble scoring against them?
RICK NASH: Yeah, I've had some success in the past, but this is a new season now. You know, I've never played a playoff game in the NHL. I'm sure it's going to be a lot tougher. It's going to be quite the challenge for everybody on our team to score against a team like that.

Q. There was so much buzz around the city just trying to get into the playoffs. Now do you have to change gears a bit now, too? I mean, it's great to get in, but it's not much fun to get in and be out in four games or five, six days. So you have to change the whole focus of not only your team, but you're in this to go a lot deeper than just getting into the playoffs?
RICK NASH: Exactly. We achieved our first goal, which was to get into the playoffs for the first time ever. Now that we're in, we want to go far. We're not just happy with making the playoffs so now we're going to stop playing. Just the first question, we got the same goals as the 16 other teams, and it's no different for us.

Q. Steve Mason has been there for you all season to make the big save. How has that allowed you and the other four to approach the game differently?
RICK NASH: I don't know if we approach it differently.

Q. Can you cheat a bit more?
RICK NASH: If you cheat under the Hitchcock system, you're not going to see too much ice. But, it obviously all depends on what the player will anticipate. Certain plays, I don't think we kind of anticipate certain plays.
You look at guys like Zetterberg, guys like Datsyuk, they can read the plays and see them happening. And sometimes they don't and you're on the wrong side of the puck. With Mason, he is the back bone of the team. He doesn't let us cheat. But if we're on the wrong side of the puck, he bails us out from time to time.

Q. Are you one of the guys that when he's in the net, you're in the playoffs? You don't feel that you're going into the playoffs with a rookie goalie?
RICK NASH: All year he's played and he's handled himself like a veteran. Even though he is a rookie, it doesn't seem like he is. He stole us games all season. And for us to be successful in the playoffs, we're going to need him to be at his best, as well as the other 22 guys on the ice. Everyone will have to be at their best to beat a power house like Detroit.

Q. I thought it was interesting what you just said about cheating on the Hitchcock system. I remember here in Philadelphia a lot of players had trouble adapting to the system. Could you comment on two things, the process of learning Ken Hitchcock's system. And then the second, I know you can't speak for everybody, but your own reaction to having a Stanley Cup winning coach come in, and also a guy that's been to the cup another time, and to the conference finals another time?
RICK NASH: Yeah, it was definitely a change of systems when he got here for me personally. Before he got here. I can't speak on it team?wise, because everyone's going to have different ?? we always have the same kind of intentions of a good, solid defense.
But individually before he got here, I was a 12?minute, 13?minute guy and used on the power play only. If we were up a goal with a couple minutes left, I wasn't going to see any ice. When he got here he explained to me that your best player had to be your best player in every situation.
It was tough at first committing myself 100% to defense first, and playing in the last minute of the games when other we're up, playing shorthanded. You know, you've got to follow something like that when you look at his resume as you study. He's been there a bunch of times. He's won at every level. And we trusted it. It's taken a few years, but it's paying off now.

Q. Just wondering if you look back at the Red Wings, they're probably favored to win every playoff series they played in the last ten years, more or less. They don't win the Cup every year. I'm wondering why you think your team can beat them, in a match?up against them?
RICK NASH: We're going to have our hands full. You know, they've got a great team, and we've had some good battles during the season. There's been games where they dominated us. And there was one month where we really didn't matter anymore.
We've got to make sure that the only way we're going to beat them is not to fall into their style. They're the most skilled team in the league. Clearly the top three, if not the best team in the league. But we've got to play our style, if not defensive, and keep the pucks deep, that's the only way we're going to have a chance in this series.

Q. You've been there a while now. Can you sort of give examples of what the mood's like in Columbus. If it's any different now. Is it more of a hockey feeling? Do you have anymore hockey questions? Are you noticing it more as a player?
RICK NASH: Yeah, it's a huge difference. Early on in the season when we were hovering around .500, we were getting 11, 12,000 people to the games. Ever since after Christmas, we started getting 18, 19,000, driving to the rink this morning, there's big billboards along the highway. The playoffs coming to Columbus for the first time ever. There's a huge buzz around the city, and it's exciting.
It's a great sport state, and a sport city. And, you know, we did get there, and it's just going to be exciting to see the first game ever played here, the fans are going to be crazy, I'm sure.

Q. This is new for everybody, including yourself. Where do you pick up your cues on how to handle everything?
RICK NASH: It's right. This is totally brand?new to me at the NHL level. I've done the world championships a couple of times. It's a pretty tough situation when you play for Team Canada and have been in the Olympics. And watch how the older guys handle themselves. That's a huge stage to be on as well.
I was to the playoffs in junior. But this is new for me. Luckily I've had some of those experiences that will help me through this.

Q. I wanted to know, last year the Red Wings had some success kind of bottling up Sidney Crosby in the finals. Even though you've had success against them this season, it seems hitch and maybe the rest of the staff has looked at the video of what the Red Wings did to Crosby, and wondered if you felt those same tactics might be used against you? And the second part of the question is do you anticipate how you might handle it if you find the goalie not as easy to score against them as you did in the regular season. How you handle that adversity?
RICK NASH: Yeah, I'm sure they've all played against great players, and have shut them down, obviously. They've won Stanley Cups. And, you know, it's going to be tough for our line. It's going to be a battle. You'll see the tough defenders and top guys as well.
I'm used to rough style. In the West we play against San Jose, Anaheim, Edmonton, Calgary, Vancouver, I like a rough game. I played against them six times this year, and it hasn't been easy at all. They have some good checkers on their team.
As for the second part I've been on spurts in my career where I haven't scored in six, seven, eight games. I never get too high, I never get too low.
This is the playoffs. This is where everyone needs to chip in. One person is not going to bring all your offense for you. So if I can't score, hopefully I can make some good defensive plays. Make some nice passes. Kill some penalties, and hopefully that won't be a problem.

Q. You talked about the players having to adapt to hitch's system. How much has he modified his ways at all in regards to the players or not at all?
RICK NASH: I don't think so. He's pretty set with his system, and we all follow along. I don't know if he's modified or changed it for a specific player. But you have to buy in. It's proven that it's work at every single level. As long as we understand that, which we have this season, I think we'll be successful.

Q. Following up to on what you said earlier about not just being satisfied to be in the playoffs, just getting there. But doing something once you get there. Did he address that right away or at the first practice right after? How did he approach that?
RICK NASH: I think we talked about that before the season even started. You know, everyone in the city saying we just want to make the playoffs, we want to make the playoffs. But from day one of the season, all 30 teams had the same goal, and that is to go beyond that and win everything. You know from day one we had that goal in mind.
Yes, the playoffs is a step in getting to our goal, but I think all 30 teams have the same goal in mind.
DAVID KEON: We are now joined by Columbus Blue Jackets Head Coach Ken Hitchcock. Questions for Ken.

Q. All year long it's been okay, Columbus is getting hasn't been to the playoffs. But they didn't say now your award is to play the Stanley Cup champions. You got in, but you're not playing a team that hasn't won the cup, but a team that is the Stanley Cup champions. How does that make a difference?
KEN HITCHCOCK: Well, I think that Detroit is the only team of all the teams in the league, they're the only team that has legitimate knowledge of what it takes to win.
Everybody else can talk about it, but they're the only team that has the knowledge. So I always find that when you play teams that know that stuff, if you're the same, you're not going to win the series. You're going to have to be better. You're going to have to be better in a lot of aspects if you expect to win. That's our goal, to be better right throughout our lineup than they are.
I think that we added players in the last two years for this time of year. We haven't had them in our lineup, but they're in there now. That's, you know, Modin, and Peca, and Commodore, and Huselius, and experienced players who know how to play at this time of the year. We're really going to lean on on those guys big time.

Q. My question is to on boil it down, you've coached teams that have been favorites in series. You've coached teams that have not been favorites in series. Do you subscribe to the theory ?? first of all, is there a difference in how you coach the series, whether you're the favorite or not the favorite? Second, do you subscribe to the theory that if a team is going to be in the playoffs, it's more (Indiscernible)?
KEN HITCHCOCK: I don't subscribe to that theory because I really feel like the Stanley Cup champion, if they get beat, it's usually the accumulation of the wear and tear. I've been through that before. It's the wear and tear of getting beat on during the regular season and being the target, and being the target in the playoffs.
I feel like for me it's more the fact that, you know, they just after while you just wear on out because everybody has you going.
But I think the defending team is as excited in the first round as any team in the league, and we're going to have a tough goal. We'll have a tough goal, because they're going to be focused. But I think we've got a lot of players who are awfully excited to play hockey at this time of the year right now.

Q. Do you coach any differently when you're coaching a team that's favored to win the series versus coaching a team that's not favored to win the series?
KEN HITCHCOCK: You know what, I haven't been in this position much in my life to be quite honest with you. It's been a long, long time. I'm not sure what to expect. I know I've always ?? it just seems like forever now coached the team with the pressure on them.
To not have any pressure, and I'm sure the expectations aren't very strong about our team right now, but I think that that maybe goes to our advantage. But I haven't been in this situation, so I'm not really sure what to expect right now to be honest with you.

Q. Earlier Rick Nash was asked with the goalie playing so well if forwards could cheat a little bit. And he said cheating is the way to see fewer minutes in Ken Hitchcock's system. I was wondering how long it took for you before you had implanted the system with the players that you had. Is it similar to Phillie, and did you have some people similar to Phillie have difficulty learning the system?
KEN HITCHCOCK: Well, the system is pretty simple. It's all based on do whatever you want to do offensively, just be strong and be determined with the puck. When the other team has it, it's not negotiable. And there's no negotiations as far as I'm concerned. It's one way only.
I think this group started to buy in after game 12. When we got off to a slow start in the season, it was a wake?up call because I think our expectations are high. I just felt like once we got desperate and things start to turn around quite a bit. I think it was a dozen games in the season, and you could really see a sense of urgency with our players to try to make sure that they righted the ship.
I think the big thing for me that's happened here which has really helped myself and the coaches and even Scott is that we were able to change the culture here without gutting the hockey club, which is very difficult to do. The players deserve a lot of credit for that.
Boy, they bought in. And a lot of times that's a hard buy?in, when you're trying to change the culture and your organization. But we were able to do it. So kudos to them. They really bought in.

Q. When it comes to his approach to the game or maturity at such a young age, what similarities can be drawn with Steve Mason, and some of the other goalies you've had previously in Philadelphia and Dallas?
KEN HITCHCOCK: Well, you know what I ?? what I find with Mason is that he is really able to analyze exactly what happened even before the end of the evening. Like mace can come in, and the game's over, he's disappointed, or he's happy, whatever.
But 40 minutes later, he's able to analyze everything. I find that very, very unique for a young guy. He does not get ?? he does not get too high or too low after a competition. For a young guy I find that really refreshing.
He doesn't fall in love with himself if he's had a shutout, and he's not discouraged by a couple of the three goals going in. He just bounces back and has a very even keel to his personality especially on his own evaluation.

Q. Of his 20 losses, 17 have come this year by two goals or less. Besides your other players, do you think that kind of result has spoken to his attention to detail, mental toughness, focus, that kind of thing?
KEN HITCHCOCK: Yeah. And I think the thing that has helped come back in games is when we're down a goal, he kept it at a goal. He's not let the game get running on him. It's allowed us to come back and get points.
You look at the games even recently, you look at the game in Nashville, St. Louis and Chicago, even in the last 7 or 8 games, he kept it as a one?goal deficit, so we could come back and win or get points in the game.
I think that's something that he doesn't get enough credit for. He's held us in there when we're down a goal and getting outplayed a bit on the road. Still learning how to win on on the road. He holds it together, and we're able to bounce back later in the game. I think that is a feather in his cap. He has that ability to keep it together even though we're down 3?2, or 2?1.

Q. Today they called up Darren Helm who played a big role for them last year in the playoffs. With so much depth up front and defensemen who can get the puck very well to the forwards, how do you try to contain a team that can put so much offense on every single line?
KEN HITCHCOCK: Well, we kind of knew Helm was coming, so I'm not sure. I think contained would be the wrong word. I think if you go with the attitude that you're going to contain Detroit, that's usually where you get buried.
We just have to play. We have a way that we play. Doesn't matter if this was Detroit or Vancouver or San Jose. I don't think it's going to change the way we play hockey. We have a certain way that we play it successful, and we're just going to play.
We're a team that relies on pressure and then on position. And we really focus on putting pressure on people, but being strong positionally. And it's not going to change whether it's the Red Wings or whatever.
I feel like if you play a containment game, I've learned that lesson watching them play, that that's not the way you give yourself a chance to beat them. You're not going to win many games playing containment hockey.
So we're going to focus on our own game, and it's all based on pressure and position, and just see where we go.

Q. Having played them six times, you know, and then they've got really some phenomenal Hall of Fame players, do you think having seen them six times is going to prevent anybody being a little bit star struck?
KEN HITCHCOCK: Yeah, I think it's a big help for us. You know what was a big help for us is winning a game in Detroit. That legitimized things for us, and it gave us ?? I know they came back and beat us pretty good. But the feeling in our city and on our team was at least since I've been here for a couple of years, is that, yes, we could win in a shootout or overtime or whatever at home.
But we weren't going to win in Detroit. When we won in Detroit, our mindset changed a lot. There was another confidence level that came over our team that we'd not had before. It wasn't just confidence playing against Detroit, but it was confidence of playing on the road and being able to beat good teams.
So that game to us made our ?? it kind of legitimized our ability to win on the road against a very good hockey club.

Q. You still had time left on your contract when you sign aid three?year extension. Did that help you at all, like when you got to the weak start this year, the confidence that you had a longer term contractor is it you're only a short losing streak away from losing any job, regardless of contract?
KEN HITCHCOCK: For me, I've always believed whether I've had one year left or five years left, I've always believed that I've always been one bad week away from getting fired. I don't know. I've lived with that, and I know it's probably not the right attitude to go with, but I think it's the fear of not having success that's helped me in the long?term.
I've always felt if I've had a bad week, that's it. I'm not going to be back. And it's allowed me to keep an edge. I mean, I'm not maybe the easiest guy to live with when it's not going well like most coaches, but I've always felt like if for whatever reason if I lose that type of attitude, then I ought to get in another part of the business, because then I'm not ready to keep on the edge that you need to be a good coach in this league.
It's so competitive as a coach. If you lose your edge and you lose your focus and you start to get sloppy, it affects your team immediately, and I don't think you have a chance to win.

Q. You pointed out earlier about some of the veteran guys that have been there before. You just talk to, obviously, Dean won a cup, and you talk about the other two guys, Torres and Peca that they got to the Stanley Cup final, what they have to offer?
KEN HITCHCOCK: Raffi's the major reason why we're even in this thing. He stepped up here in the last 30 games, and he really helps us a lot. He scored 12 goals, all of them late in the season. He scored six game winners, which ties Nash for game winners. He scored big time goals at unbelievable times.
The thing for me is Raffi's one of those guys that plays a lot better when the light is at the end of the tunnel. He can see the opponent, he can see the end of the season. It's one team and he's going after the same players all the time. He's way more focused.
I think that's what happened here as the season wound down, Raffi became a very good player for us.
Peca to me and Modin, both guys in the last two years have been banged up beyond belief. Now they're approaching healthy status. Whether Freddy plays for us in the first series is still up in the air, but he has a chance. And Peca feels healthy. For a 35?year?old guy, the season is really long.
There are times for both of them when it's a real struggle to play, but this is the time that they play for. And we're going to really count on those guys. I mean, we're going to really count that they raise their level to the level that a lot of older players do at this time of the year.
I've always found that the playoffs are for veteran players. The regular season is the regular season, but the playoffs are a different level, and it's always, the playoffs are very difficult for young players, and they are usually the calling card or the meal ticket for veteran guys.
And that's why we brought those few guys in here to help us through this time. I'm excited and curious to see how they do. But they are really, really legitimately excited to get this thing going.

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