Don't be surprised if you see St. Louis Blues coach Ken Hitchcock smile Friday night when he looks toward the Canes' bench.
It's just that Hitchcock says he enjoys seeing Canes coach Kirk Muller and assistant John MacLean, two of his former players with the Dallas Stars, behind the bench. It's almost as if they're not adversaries, coaches doing everything they can to try and beat each other in a hockey game.
"It just looks like another friend who happens to be standing on the other team's bench," he said. "It's hard for me."
Hitchcock said he's not surprised that Muller gravitated toward coaching once his playing days were over. As an older player in Dallas, Muller was almost like a coach in training in how he dealt with varying roles, how he dealt with teammates, he said.
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"Any player who could make the adjustments in his career that he needed to make to further his career and continue to play is a really smart guy," Hitchcock said. "He made a 180 adjustment in the way he needed to play. He went from a top three forward to a top nine. He went from a play-all-the-time guy to a specialist and didn't miss a beat. He was such a smart player and you knew that would transfer (to coaching).
"The other thing for me that I thought was really unique was he had no patience for people who didn't pour everything into the team. And I could see that coming into his coaching. Both he and (MacLean), they had no patience if you didn't buy in to what the coach or the team needed. They had no issue telling you that you didn't fit in the way the team needed you to fit in. I thought that was unique because they had the courage to say the things that needed to be said in that locker room."
Muller, in turn, said he learned a lot about game preparation from Hitchcock. He also was a coach, Muller said, not afraid to make quick changes during games -- or before them.
Muller said he once went into pregame warmup with the Stars on the fourth line, only to start the game on the top line with Brett Hull and Mike Modano and stay there for 10 games.
"He's old school that way," Muller said. "You've got to be on your toes."
As for Friday's game, Hitchcock said what really has impressed him about the Canes' recent play has been their skating.
"They really put a lot of pressure with numbers on you," Hitchcock said. "If you're not sharp with the puck you're going to wind up like Columbus was in the second half of the game here (Monday). You're going to wind up on your heels and you're going to be chipping pucks out and chasing them down.
"That's what we don't want to get into, where we're chipping and chasing the first period. We've got to make them defend a little more than they want to and don't let them bring numbers on the attack."