Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Blues have big night in Las Vegas

By Andrew Allsman| Posted: June 20th, 2012| Contact  | 

The Awards for the 2011-12 season have been handed out, and the Blues will be coming home with some hardware.  The Blues will bring with them to St. Louis three awards: The Jack Adams Award for Coach of the Year, the General Manager of the Year Award, and the Jennings trophy which is awarded to the goaltenders that allow the fewest goals during the regular season.

The Blues started the season with a 6-7-0 record before coach of the year, Ken Hitchcock, took over and established a system that led to a record of 49-22-11 (109 points), the Blues' first Central Division title since 2000, and their first playoff series win since the 2001-02 season.  Hitchcock set a record for the best 10-game for a new head coach start in franchise history (7-1-2) and became one of six coaches in franchise history to record over 40 wins in a single season.  Under Hitchcock's defensive system the Blues led the league in fewest goals allowed (165) and average shots allowed per game (26.7).

Hitchcock provided stability to a young and inexperienced team, and implemented his defensive system to that was nearly unbeatable for much of the season.  One of the smartest hockey minds in the game, Hitchcock made the Blues believe they could win every game and as a result the Blues broke several franchise records under his leadership including" 30 home wins in a single season, and a 21 home game point streak.

This was Hitchcock's fourth nomination for the Jack Adams award, but his first time winning it.  He is now 11th all-time in wins (567) and 13th in games coached (1,110).  Hitchcock led the voting with 63 first place votes.  Rangers' head coach John Tortorella was the runner-up with five votes, followed by the Senators' John MacLean who had four votes.

Hitchcock dedicated the award to his friend Wayne Fleming who is fighting for his life.

“I wouldn’t be here without friends and I’m dedicating this to Wayne Fleming who’s coaching the battle of his life right now.”

"Thanks to Doug Armstrong and John Davidson for bringing me out of retirement," said Hitchcock.  "Thanks to the coaches Ray Bennett, Brad Shaw, Scott Mellanby, especially for the first two months.  Thanks to the players for the buy-in, and what was being sold, led by David Backes, I really appreciate what you guys did.  I think everybody in St. Louis is excited to get started."

"This is very rewarding for the team and for the franchise and for us old coaches.  I went backwards to go ahead, I went back into junior hockey and to colleges to see what they were thinking, acting and reacting to what coaches were doing.  I wanted to study the players that were playing in the game right now. 

"One of the things I really benefited from the Olympic experience was short-term prep," Hitchcock told Kevin Weekes.   "Everything we did with the Olympics, as far as preparation, I took into St. Louis and having that experience really helped me get the guys off on the right foot."

One of the people responsible for bringing in Hitchcock, Doug Armstrong, also won an award.  'Army' was presented with the General Manager of the Year Award as he beat both Nashville's David Poile and Florida's Dale Tallon.  When it was announced he was a finalist for the award awhile back, Armstrong was flattered.

"It's certainly a great honor to be in there with David Poile and Dale Tallon, two guys who have done a tremendous job this season," Armstrong said. "It's certainly something that we cherish here as an organization.

Armstrong has been a huge part of the Blues team rebuilding, and has had a hand in acquiring many of the current players such as: Jaroslav Halak, Brian Elliott, Chris Stewart, Kevin Shattenkirk, Kris Russell, Jamie Langenbrunner, Jason Arnott, and Scott Nichol.  Armstrong was responsible for bringing in Ken Hitchcock after a slow start by the Blues, a move that arguable saved the season.  

Armstrong became the general manager of the Blues on July 1, 2010 and since his hiring, the Blues have posted a record of 87-55-22 (196 points).

“I’d like to thank the people of the St. Louis Blues for giving me the opportunity to get back to working in the NHL," said Armstrong.  "To the people behind the scenes, the pro and amateur scouts who spend tireless hours finding all the great players.  To the coaches and trainers and to everyone behind the scenes that makes this possible.  I’d especially like to think John Davidson for showing faith in me and giving me the opportunity and for giving me the guidance and the encouragement to be bold in making our decisions.  It was great to work with Ken Hitchcock again.  Thanks to my wife and my kids, without you guys this wouldn’t be as big of a deal.”

"Coming off of an 88 points season we felt we had to take that next step and prove to our fans that their patience was going to be rewarded.  Ken Hitchcock coming in really gave us some stability and now we are chasing that trophy that just left us (Stanley Cup).  This is certainly a great first step for us."

Two players that were instrumental to the Blues' success this past season, Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott, were presented with the William M. Jennings trophy for fewest goals allowed (165) in the 2011-12 season.  The tandem combined for a league-leading 15 shutouts in 2011-12, passing the former franchise leading number of 13 set by Jacques Plante and Roman Turek in the 1968-69 season.

"I think we push each other really well," said Brian Elliott.  "With the team playing the way they did, in front of us, we just had to go in there and make a couple of saves and they did the rest of the work.  When you have everybody playing like that it makes our job a lot easier."

-David Backes was a finalist for the Frank J. Selke Trophy, but Boston's Patrice Bergeron won the award.