New coach runs first Blues practice at '100 mph'

Updated: December 12, 2006, 8:55 PM ET
Associated Press

ST. LOUIS -- The morning skate on NHL game day is usually a time for players to stretch their legs. New St. Louis Blues coach Andy Murray had them sweating for 45 minutes.

Scott Burnside's take
Scott Burnside
Just wondering, but what exactly was the point of having Mike Kitchen behind the St. Louis Blues' bench for the last 28 games?

Based on the fact that Kitchen was fired Monday, there was no point.

This fits in pretty well with the Blues' season -- to whit, pointless.

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"He addressed about six different things," team president John Davidson said Tuesday. "It was 100 mph. It was fast. It was organized. They didn't even stop for a water break, I don't think."

Murray characterizes himself as a turnaround specialist, and the Blues are in dire need of such services. They were in last place overall in the NHL after a seven-game losing streak that cost Mike Kitchen his job.

Kitchen had been with the Blues since 1998. Davidson reiterated that he wants him to stay with the organization in some capacity, saying he told Kitchen to take a few weeks to let his dismissal settle in.

The Blues' free fall comes after new management overhauled the roster following a last-place overall finish last season that ended a 25-year playoff run.

Davidson, the former longtime NHL analyst, was hired by the new owners to preside over the rebuilding job. He promised repeatedly in the preseason and on several commercials that his team would not be outworked.

"On some nights that hasn't happened," Davidson said. "And I feel responsible for it."

Murray is unfamiliar with the roster after being hired to a multiyear contract Monday. But Davidson is counting on him to make a difference, starting Tuesday night against the Chicago Blackhawks.

"The boost you get is players trying to prove themselves to a coach they've never had," defenseman Dennis Wideman said. "I think we should have some more jump, yeah."

The Blues passed out mission statements outlining Murray's "belief system" before introducing him at a news conference at their practice facility. Categories were listed on the front page: setting an example, listening, paying attention to detail, being demanding, caring and finding the positive.

"The players make the difference," Murray said. "We help them get ready."

Murray is behind an NHL bench only nine months after being fired by the Los Angeles Kings near the end of his seventh season. He remembers the competitive Blues before the previous ownership gutted the roster to facilitate a sale, and believes there's enough talent and time to make a charge.

"They've got a lot of quality players," Murray said. "These players are auditioning, just as I'm auditioning every day. You don't do that by thinking of the future."

The Blues were 7-17-4 with three of the victories coming in shootouts and only one point during the losing streak. Besides trailing the field in the standings, they were last in scoring with 65 goals -- an average of 2.3 per game -- and attendance at 11,142 or 58 percent of capacity.

"They've dropped off a little bit, and it's our responsibility to get it back," Murray said. "I'm excited about the opportunity."

Murray was scouting mostly Eastern Conference opponents for the Montreal Canadiens and said he had not seen the Blues play at all.

He doesn't know the roster, either, aside from a small number of veterans, and mentioned Lee Stempniak -- not by name but by his No. 12 jersey -- as being in line for more power-play duty. Dallas Drake and Keith Tkachuk played at Winnipeg in the 1990s while Murray was an assistant there.

"It almost feels like a fresh start," Stempniak said. "He doesn't know much about us and we don't know much about him."

Murray leads the Kings with 215 coaching victories and he also led Canada to gold medals in the 1997 and 2003 world championships. He's widely perceived as a coach who's better with youth, and the Blues don't have much of that after an overhaul in which veterans Doug Weight, Bill Guerin, Martin Rucinsky, Jay McKee and goalie Manny Legace were added.

"It's easy for somebody to look at this and say 'Boy, I don't know if he can coach older players,"' Davidson said. "That's not the point. That's not our future."


Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press

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