Ken Hitchcock keeps up with players' likes

There might have been some eyebrows arched when St. Louis Blues GM Doug Armstrong pulled the pin on head coach Davis Payne just 13 games into the 2011-12 season and replaced him with old pal Ken Hitchcock.

Just another retread? Another old-timer whose best days were behind him?

Not quite.

Hitchcock capped off a remarkable season with the Blues by winning his first Jack Adams Award as coach of the year after leading the Blues to a surprise Central Division title and a trip to the second round of the playoffs -- the first such foray for the Blues since 2002.

He told reporters after his win Wednesday that he prides himself on being current when it comes to young players and their likes and dislikes.

“I study people. And I pride myself in staying current," Hitchcock said. "I like their music. I listen to their music. I like the things that they think and do. I study them to try to understand what they’re doing. I’m not sitting and resting on my laurels.

“Players laugh like crazy, but my favorite TV station is [music network] Palladia. I watch Palladia four, five hours a day until it drives people nuts."

Hitchcock said he felt that philosophy was crucial to his success this season.

“It’s not the winning or the losing to me; it’s all in the march," Hitchcock said. "It’s learning about the composite of the group and understanding what makes certain players tick and understanding how you’d better be prepared to change because five years ago if you dealt with the players the same way you do now, you’d have no success. They’ve changed, they’ve changed a lot, you’ve got to adapt.”

This year marked the fourth time that Hitchcock was nominated for the Jack Adams, having been nominated for three straight years while coaching Dallas from 1997 to 1999.

He earned a first-place vote on 63 of 82 ballots cast and finished well ahead of runner-up John Tortorella of the New York Rangers. Paul MacLean of Ottawa was third.

Hitchcock was especially pleased for MacLean to have been nominated in his first year as a head coach.

“I coached against Mac in the ’90s and I thought he was the hardest guy I ever coached against in the (International Hockey League) when he was in Peoria and we were in Kalamazoo," Hitchcock said. "Every game was like a playoff game and I thought, man, this guy’s going to be a heck of a coach, and look how long it took it took him to be a head guy and I was really happy for him."

In the end, it wasn’t winning the award that meant so much to Hitchcock as simply being part of the coaching fraternity once again.

“When you’re out, it’s a really lonely feeling,” Hitchcock acknowledged.

“For us it’s not being a head coach, it’s being connected to a team. When you’re on a team, you don’t feel like you need anybody. It’s a powerful situation. And then when you’re out, you feel like you need everybody. I was lucky I had a lot of friends in the business that got me to stay busy.

“I’ve never been disconnected from a team since ’73, that’s almost 40 years, you know. It’s a different feeling when you’re out. I didn’t care what I did other than I didn’t want to do the ice, but anything else -- I wanted to be connected again."

He doesn’t have to worry about that now.