Last night the St. Louis Blues punched their ticket to the postseason for the second straight year. While the Blues have had their fair share of ups and downs throughout the season, the coaching staff of the Blues has held together and pushed this team to excel.
While head coach Ken Hitchcock often gets the most recognition for the team’s success, their is a team of incredible assistant coaches behind the scenes that are vital to the Blues’ winning ways.
Ray Bennett is one of those great coaches with an incredible track record. Bennett joined the St. Louis Blues on December 13, 2006 with the arrival of Andy Murray. Bennett was part of the Los Angeles Kings organization prior to coming to St. Louis, and after seven seasons with the Kings brought a great deal of experience in all areas of tactical and technical play while specializing in video analysis, computer assistance and statistical support.
Bennett was kind enough to answer a few questions for me and the fans of the St. Louis Blues.
Hodschayan: You won a silver medal back in 1998 during the Winter Olympics and followed that up with a silver medal at the 1999 World Championships and then a gold medal at the Women’s World Championships in 1999. During that impressive span, who were the players that you were most impressed with?
Bennett: The Olympics in 1998, I was an assistant coach with the Canadian Women’s team. I had not coached women before, which was a unique and really good experience. Also, the first time Women’s hockey was in the Oly’s, so that also made for an even more incredible experience. The women centralized and became a full time team in Calgary, August 1997. I was so impressed by the quality of the athletes and their never ending desire to learn, work and improve. All the girls were terrific, but it was hard to not be impressed with the competitive spirit of Hayley Wickenheiser, Jennifer Botterill, Therese Brisson etc. It was a great experience. In 1999 I was an assistant with the Canadian National Junior Team at the World Championship held on home turf in Winnipeg, MB. A great and exciting tournament, we lost to Russia in OT unfortunately. Again, so many top level players; our D on that group included Robin Regehr, Brad Stuart, Bryan Allan, Brian Campbell, Andrew Ference, Mike Van Ryn and Brad Ference. Wow, an incredible group with several guys still playing very important roles on their NHL teams. Our F group was maybe a little less noteworthy by NHL status, but guys like Brendan Morrow, Jason Chimera, Adam Mair, and Simon Gagne all had/have long careers. But the guys who stood out in the tourney were guys like Brad Leeb, Tyler Bouck, Blair Betts, in addition to the aforementioned. Their energy and physicality was off the charts. When it was all done, all of those guys were spent, bruised and in some cases broken, but I can only imagine how the opponents must have felt.
Hodschayan: You joined the St. Louis Blues back in 2006 after spending six season with the Los Angeles Kings. When you were with the Kings, what were you primarily in charge of?
Bennett: My role changed and evolved over time there. I went as an assistant coach/video coordinator and left as the coach in charge of PP, team prep based on pre-scout and a full time bench coach.
Hodschayan: When you joined the Blues, how did your role change?
Bennett: I came with Andy Murray in a similar role to what I finished with in LA.
Hodschayan: You have had the chance to work with some great players during your career with the Blues. Who has been one of your favorite players to work with?
Bennett: You’re right, some great players. Characters, veterans and real pros like Keith Tkachuk, Doug Weight, Bill Guerin, Paul Kariya, Andy McDonald, Barret Jackman, Jamie Langenbrunner, Scott Nichol. But, it has been really positive for me to be able to welcome some of the current young players to the NHL and then watch their careers grow, mature as players and people; David Backes, Alexander Steen, David Perron, T.J. Oshie, Patrik Berglund, Alex Pietrangelo, Kevin Shattenkirk. For my personality and style of coaching it has been a tremendous situation to work with the younger players, teach, evaluate and hopefully assist in their development. Also, with some of the more veteran guys we’ve had and also some who have grown into that role (Backes, Roman Polak, Steen as examples), it has been enjoyable to watch them be mentored young in their career and now be the mentors to our young group.
Hodschayan: I don’t think the average fan really understands the role of an assistant coach. What are some of the duties you have, day-to-day, behind the scenes?
Bennett: In both of my jobs in LA and here in St Louis, all the assistants have a job description with certain jobs and duties. I’ve been lucky to work with Head Coaches who like to delegate responsibility and allow us to do our jobs (I currently prepare our team with pre-scout information and also evaluate our Offensive Team play post-game). Having said that, we all share and participate in all aspects of the job including evaluation, development, practice participation and planning etc. Assistant coaches, as you would expect, become the “catch all” for issues and items that arise in every team, in every season. A typical game day starts early with coaches arriving before 7am, meetings, preparation of reports, video for meetings and whatever pops up. We have a Penalty Kill meeting at 9:30am, Team Meeting at 9:45am which includes video (either review of the prior game and /or pre-scout information on our next opponent). Then we skate either as a team or optional depending on the pace of our game schedule. Typically assistant coaches share the responsibility of doing extra work post-practice with certain players (usually the younger players, injured/rehab players and the scratches). Then we watch the opponent’s practice. Players generally are gone by now, so coaches get a little time to either finish their responsibilities or get some sort of work out in followed by lunch. Most of us try to leave the rink to clear our minds, see our families or take care of personal business for which we tend to not have much time for during a season. We are all back at the rink for final preparation by 3:30pm for a 7pm game. We prep for a PP meeting at 5:10pm and a final team meeting which lays out the final thoughts and repetition of our game plan keys, and a review of any line or D pair matchups we have for the game. Post-game, we tend to do a quick review, but mostly try not to be too definitive in our analysis unless it is required for reasons of schedule or personnel (injury). We all get emotional and very involved in the game in our own way, so I learned long ago, to try and maintain some balance post-game, get a chance to review the tape and to form more definitive opinions or recommendations the next day.
Hodschayan: You have seen your fair share of coaching changes in St. Louis during your tenure with the Blues. How has your role evolved since first joining the team.
Bennett: It has become much more focused on team preparation working with Coach Hitchcock on game planning, in game analysis and adjustments and post-game review of our Offensive Team Play.
Hodschayan: Ken Hitchcock has earned the right to be the coach of the future for the St. Louis Blues. Do you see yourself staying with the Blues for the long run or would you like to one day be the head coach of an NHL team?
Bennett: When you’ve been an assistant as long as I have, the thought of becoming a head coach is present for sure. Most of us yearn for the chance to run our own show. However, I am also most driven by my desire to win a Stanley Cup and to do whatever I am asked to try and make that happen. We have a great opportunity here. Coach Hitchcock has been more than fair with me and the responsibilities he’s given me and expects me to perform.
Hodschayan: Having been around the Blues as long as you have, I am sure you have some good stories. Are there any you would like to share? Anything that stands out as one of the best/funniest moments?
Bennett: We have had our fair share of laugh out loud long and hard moments, but I’d be breaking the code if I divulged too much!
I want to thank Ray Bennett for sitting down and answering these questions for us. Bennett is a true professional and we wish him the best of luck in his career and hope that he can win his first Stanley Cup with the St. Louis Blues.
LET’S GO BLUES!