CHESTERFIELD, MO. -- Early in his climb up the hockey coaching ladder John Stevens formed a friendship he values to this day. His sentiments haven’t changed even though Stevens, now an assistant coach of the Kings, is trying to beat his old friend, St. Louis Blues Coach Ken Hitchcock, in the teams’ second-round playoff series.
“He was awesome,” Stevens said Sunday after the Kings practiced at a rink outside St. Louis. “He was a great mentor.”
Stevens’ Kings won the series opener, 3-1, on Saturday. The teams will meet again on Monday at Scottrade Center before moving to Los Angeles for Game 3 on Thursday and Game 4 next Sunday.
Stevens was coaching the Philadelphia Flyers’ top minor-league team, the Phantoms, when he worked with Hitchcock, who was coaching the Flyers. Hitchcock was already a National Hockey League coaching veteran and had a Stanley Cup championship with the Dallas Stars on his resume.
“We developed a great relationship. The year we probably spent the most time together was the lockout year because we were playing and he was in town,” Stevens said of the 2004-05 season. “He watched us practice a lot. He watched us play a lot. For a young coach he was just a great resource to have.
“We’ve been friends ever since. I learned a lot from him. He’s a sharp guy. He was awesome to have around as a young coach.”
Stevens became an assistant to Hitchcock with the Flyers for the 2006-07 season and succeeded Hitchcock as coach after the team stumbled to a 1-6-1 start and Hitchcock was fired.
“It was a rough year,” said Stevens, who himself felt the sting of being fired early in the 2009-10 season.
With the Flyers, and later with the Kings as an assistant in charge of the team’s outstanding penalty killing unit, Stevens said he puts to use the lessons he learned from Hitchcock.
“He goes directly to the point. He’s razor-sharp for the details. He doesn’t waste a lot of time with stuff that doesn’t really have anything to do with what you’re trying to get done,” Stevens said.
“He can really pinpoint things, whether it’s between periods, or opponents about what the read is, what the specific read is for your opponent, what they’re trying to do. That’s the stuff I learned from him. He’s very detail-oriented on the things that matter, and when you can really narrow the focus to the things that matter it saves you a lot of time on what you’re doing and you can get better in a hurry.”
Stevens said he and Hitchcock didn’t speak before the series but he expects their friendship to survive no matter the outcome of this series.
“It’s all business now for him, as it is for us,” Stevens said, “and it’s just about getting your team ready to play and trying to grind out games.”