Mike Babcock goes back to school to coach Saskatchewan Huskies – Toronto Sun

‘It’s a riot. I’m enjoying it like crazy’

Author of the article:

Jim Matheson  •  Edmonton Journal

Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Mike Babcock speaks during an end of season media availability at the Scotiabank Arena in Toronto on April 25, 2019. Ernest Doroszuk/Toronto Sun/Postmedia
Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Mike Babcock speaks during an end of season media availability at the Scotiabank Arena in Toronto on April 25, 2019. Ernest Doroszuk/Toronto Sun/Postmedia Photo by Ernest Doroszuk /Postmedia, file

Mike Babcock is back at school with a PhD in coaching.

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A Stanley Cup ring, two Olympic golds and a world-championship title means he’s aced his classes in the pro game, working in Anaheim, Detroit and Toronto, behind the bench for Canada in 2010 and 2014, as well as head man at the worlds in Prague in 2004.

But, between NHL jobs after the Maple Leafs let him go on Nov. 19, 2019, following four-plus years there, he’s back where it all started.

Circle of life.

After starting with Red Deer College as a 26-year-old in 1988, coaching junior in Moose Jaw and Spokane, along with a year at University of Lethbridge in ’93-94 before moving to the pros, the 58-year-old Babcock is now the volunteer head coach of the University of Saskatchewan Huskies. They were in town Friday and Saturday for exhibition games against the University of Alberta Golden Bears.

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He’s got his son Michael beside him on the bench now, a joy for a career coach.

But no Nick Lidstrom or Pavel Datsyuk. No Auston Matthews or John Tavares.

Instead, Vince Loschiavo and Parker Gavlas, former Edmonton Oil Kings juniors. Connor Hobbs, who played for the Hershey Bears and Chance Petruic from the University of Alaska Anchorage.

Babcock is the big man on campus in Saskatoon. And he’s loving the gig.

What’s changed in the players from Red Deer College to now?

“I couldn’t tell you. I can’t remember. They’re good kids, they’ve played in the Western Hockey League a long time, they’re men when they arrive. They’re fired up about being the best they can be at the rink and the best they can be at school. They’re all in and lots of fun to be around. It’s been enjoyable,” said Babcock, who took over from the retired Dave Adolph, who was the Huskes coach for 27 years.

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Coaching pros is obviously different than coaching student athletes, because the NHL or American Hockey League is a business and playing hockey along with being in the classroom is a plus for the Huskies and the Golden Bears.

“They come to the rink and just want to be good. You have good practice time at the college level, they want the latest technology, they want you to teach them the game. You have to be understanding. Sometimes there’s mid-terms or other things going on. Sometimes a guy’s wife is pregnant. There’s lots of things going on here and in the NHL with all people. We just ask our players to be in the present. Our guys are often 21 years old after their WHL careers. They’re three years older than some guys in pro,” he said.

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Obviously, he would like to get another crack at the NHL but, “this is what I’m enjoying right now. I have no plan after March (season’s end).”

Babcock was thrown into the deep end at Red Deer College after he played in the WHL.

“I didn’t know anything about (coaching) hockey. I just knew if you played hard, you had a chance. Same thing today, but I know a little bit more about the game and about life,” he said.

Babcock, who grew up in Saskatoon, Sask., couldn’t turn down the volunteer post.

“Main reason I’m doing this is because of my family connections. We stopped in Lloydminster for five minutes and I saw my father-in-law who is 88 years old and we had a quick coffee,” he said.

“My sisters and their families are over (to his house) all the time and my son who is working on his MBA is on the bench with me. That’s the No. 1 reason I’m doing this. In saying all that, it’s a riot. I’m enjoying it like crazy.”

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His boy is also doing this on a volunteer basis.

“I don’t know what he wants to do with that (MBA). Maybe he just wants to coach hockey. He was a captain of the U.S. junior team, his college team, went over to play in France and came back, sold software and didn’t like it much, so he’s doing this,” said Babcock.

“I know nothing about this (U-Sports) league, let’s be honest. I’ve been around NHL players long enough so I know what an NHL player is, but not a college player,” said Babcock, who is using many of the same drills he had in Detroit, in Toronto and Anaheim to kick off his NHL journey after two years in Cincinnati, the Ducks AHL farm club.

“The NHL players just create space better than college players. This is more of a grinding game. If you were coaching midget triple-A, you’d be saying the same thing (about skill levels),” said Babcock, with U-Sports officially starting Oct. 15.

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Babcock certainly was a teacher with Oilers winger Zach Hyman in his early Toronto days. Hyman says he owes his NHL career to Babcock.

“Mike’s been one of the most influential people in my career. He believed in me right from the start. At the beginning of my career, a lot of people doubted how I played. He stuck with me and helped me grow my game,” said Hyman.

Said Babcock: “Zach’s a real good player right? He plays hard and when you want to win, you play the players who play the hardest. He’s like a dog on a bone, he goes and gets you the puck. He makes players better, that’s his greatest skill. He can play at playoff time and the first game of the year and he’s no maintenance. Comes to work every single day.”

E-mail: jmatheson@postmedia.com

On Twitter: @jimmathesonnhl

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