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Mike Babcock At His Best

from Alex Prewitt of Sports Illustrated,

Twenty-four years ago, a jut-jawed young man followed these same roads into town, accompanied by his wife and newborn daughter. He bought a brand-new house across Whoop-Up Drive, not far from the local rink where he had accepted a job to revive the University of Lethbridge Pronghorns men’s hockey team. Early on, the decision looked disastrous. One night in Sept. 1994, not long after the family arrived, a 30-year-old Mike Babcock came home from the first preseason meeting and declared, “This might be the last time I ever coach.”

It seems ridiculous, of course, imagining a world in which Babcock never stalked and glowered behind NHL benches for 1,114 games and almost 600 victories; never won two Olympic gold medals and the 2016 World Cup of Hockey while helming Team Canada; never lifted the 2008 Stanley Cup with the Red Wings. Soon he’ll likely finish as a Jack Adams Trophy finalist too, if not its eventual winner, for steering a rookie-laden Toronto Maple Leafs roster from 30th place last season to the Eastern Conference’s eighth seed this spring—the first worst-to-playoffs reversal since Philadelphia in 2007-08. But in thinking his coaching career might’ve reached an early end, Babcock was gravely serious. This makes what actually happened that much more magical.

Over the next seven months, Babcock engineered perhaps the unlikeliest success story in Canadian college hockey history. It was a season deserving of a Disney film—provided screenwriters could work all the flaming liquor shots and F-bombs into a family friendly script. The championship rings referencing testicular fortitude would probably need some tweaking, too.

By the following summer, one of the smallest schools in the Canadian Interuniversity Athletics Union (enrollment 4,350) had captured its first, and still only, national title; a program had been rescued from extinction; and Babcock was ascending toward the NHL, off from the hitching post toward bigger things. Even now, as the Maple Leafs begin their first-round trial against the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Washington Capitals on Thursday, Babcock traces his proudest accomplishment back to the 1993-94 Lethbridge Pronghorns.

“The best job I’ve ever done,” he says. “By far. Not even close.”


Filed in: Non-NHL Hockey, | KK Hockey | Permalink
  Tags: mike+babcock


OlderThanChelios's avatar

That was a really good story, with an interesting insight into a lot of the things that make Babcock tick.

And the part about his method of motivating Jarret Zukiwsky at U of L might be a window into the way Blashill has treated AA this year. The problem is, Jeff Blashill is no Mike Babcock. And AA isn’t Jarret Zukiwsky.

Posted by OlderThanChelios from Grand Rapids, MI on 04/13/17 at 10:11 AM ET

TreKronor's avatar

Babs has really evolved as a coach, just like we’ve all evolved in our jobs (i assume). Having watched him for years its pretty interesting to see

Posted by TreKronor on 04/13/17 at 12:49 PM ET

RWBill's avatar

I always liked Babcock and regrettably understood it was time to leave the Wings after ten years.
Living in Virginia I enjoy when the Caps fail, and would love if this year it happens in the first round vs Babcock.  He very well could recite the same comment for his young Leafs vs the mighty Caps.

“Babcock gladly played into the perception. “I just hope there are two pucks out there so we could play,” he humbly told reporters during media day, having heard enough talk about Acadia’s high-powered attack.”

Go Leafs Go!  ???

Posted by RWBill on 04/13/17 at 05:24 PM ET

Iggy_Rules's avatar

Real good article, real good read.

Thanks for posting it Paul!

Posted by Iggy_Rules from Calgary, Canada on 04/13/17 at 05:30 PM ET

bigfrog's avatar

Good for Babcock. He is still the best coach in the NHL. I always liked Babcock, but after saying that, it’s go Caps. I cannot stand the arrogant Leaf fans. angry

Posted by bigfrog on 04/13/17 at 06:50 PM ET

w2j2's avatar

Thanks for the article, Paul.
Why was this article never written while he was in Detroit?

Posted by w2j2 on 04/13/17 at 08:30 PM ET

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Paul Kukla founded Kukla’s Korner in 2005 and the site has since become the must-read site on the ‘net for all the latest happenings around the NHL.

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