It's no secret Ken Hitchcock long has been a fan of Brent Burns.
When the man known as "Hitch" coached Columbus, he never sidestepped a chance to rave about the Wild defenseman.
So Hitchcock, who's coaching unbeaten Canada in the World Championships, is hardly shocked by how well Burns is playing on Canada's top defense pair with Dion Phaneuf.
Hitchcock is, however, stunned by Wild winger Cal Clutterbuck.
"The things I noticed about him before with Minny were the things that upset you as an opposing coach -- the physical play," Hitchcock said by phone from Slovakia. "You don't notice the positional play and the smarts. The reason he gets hits is because he's in the right place all the time. He's not running out of position to make hits.
"So his timing is impeccable, and now I've got a better understanding of why and how he's able to make contact."
Hitchcock is leaning a lot on Clutterbuck, who's playing against opposing teams' top players on a checking line with Atlanta Thrashers captain Andrew Ladd and New Jersey Devils forward Travis Zajac.
Clutterbuck is one of five forwards Hitchcock's using to kill penalties.
"He's been a glue guy," Hitchcock said. "Killing penalties on big ice is hard to do, and he's been great. And his line, on this surface, can really create a lot of offensive opportunities for themselves because they check so well."
Burns is averaging 22 minutes a game and has scored two goals and two assists in six games. He assisted on Rick Nash's third-period winning goal Monday against Sweden, although Nash said the goal should have been credited to Burns. Canada plays Russia in the quarterfinals Thursday.
When Hitchcock coached Canada at the 2008 World Championships, Burns was named best defenseman of the tournament.
"In '08, he was a guy you just turned loose," Hitchcock said. "You loved him because he was like a manchild. Now, his play is more refined. I'm counting on Burnsie against top lines."
Hitchcock believes Burns has improved defensively because of the tutelage of Wild assistant coach Rick Wilson, Hitchcock's assistant with Dallas in 1999 when the two won a Stanley Cup.
"You can see a lot of Rick's influence with Brent," Hitchcock said. "The way Brent thinks the game defensively and the way he positions himself in the defensive zone, that stuff is all Rick."
With five NHL coaching vacancies including Minnesota, Hitchcock's hoping to land another NHL job once he returns from Europe. He's yet to be contacted by any team.
"This experience for me has been so good because it's so intense," said Hitchcock, who ranks 13th all-time with 533 regular-season victories. He's won another 66 in the playoffs. "It's like a month's playoffs. So it really invigorates you and gets you prepared for hopefully the next job."