Mike Babcock has always brought ‘presence’ behind...
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Feb 04, 2016  |  Vote 0    0

Mike Babcock has always brought ‘presence’ behind bench

Leafs boss will coach his 1,000th game Thursday, and Steve Yzerman expects him to be around 'a lot longer'


Steve Yzerman always knew Mike Babcock was a solid, well-prepared coach. That much was obvious when Yzerman, then captain of the Red Wings, would play the Anaheim Ducks, the first National Hockey League team Babcock coached.

But Yzerman discovered a whole lot more about Babcock when the Wings hired him. Babcock thought about the game differently than others.

“He’s the first coach that instructed us — in the defensive zone — to use the slot,” said Yzerman, now the general manager of the Tampa Bay Lightning. “Pass the puck to the slot. We’d always been taught never pass the puck to the slot. But that’s where there was open ice.

“He was right. Now you see all teams do that. He was the first coach that I know that did that.”

Babcock will coach his 1,000th game in the NHL on Thursday night. It is a milestone few have reached — Babcock is the 25th in league history — but it will be a muted celebration at the Air Canada Centre, during a timeout.

It is fitting with the coach’s character, for one thing. And, let’s be honest, Babcock hasn’t been here that long and hasn’t won much in Toronto.

“The whole thing about longevity is you did a good job and somebody hired you,” Babcock said. “If you don’t keep doing a good job, someone else is going to have your job. What I found as a coach is if you embrace life-long learning and try to get better each day, you end up having a choice to stay where you are a little bit longer.”

It will only be Babcock’s 50th game behind the Toronto bench, which puts him 26th among the list of 39 men credited with being Leafs coach for at least one game by hockey-reference.com. He will be three ahead of George Armstrong, and eight ahead of Peter Horachek, the man he replaced.

“When you start in the league, you say to yourself you’d like to make the year,” Babcock said. “There’s only 30 of you. I don’t know if you noticed, but they get rid of you fast. Over time, as you get established in the league, it’s about winning.

“You’re trying to be the best. I want to be the best coach in my generation. Guys are making it hard for you. Q (Chicago coach Joel Quenneville) is making it hard for you. (L.A. Kings coach) Darryl Sutter is making it hard for you.”

Arizona coach Dave Tippett passed the 1,000-game mark as a coach on Tuesday. Columbus coach John Tortorella should get there by the end of the season.

“Any time anyone gets to 1,000, that’s special,” Leafs forward Joffrey Lupul said. “It takes talent first of all. He’s done a good job where he’s been coaching, or they would have shipped him out of there. It also takes a lot of dedication to put that much time at the rink every day. It shows.”

When Yzerman took over as general manager of the Canadian entries for the Olympics in 2010 and 2014, Babcock was his first and only choice to run the bench.

“He’s won at every level, at every stop along the way,” Yzerman said. “He’s really passionate about the game, really driven to be successful. He’s got a tremendous work ethic. Very intelligent guy who observes, and studies, listens and learns. He’s been able to adjust.

“To top it off, he’s a very strong leader. That’s why I wanted him to coach the Canadian team in the Olympics. He had hard decisions to make and he’s not afraid to make them.”

Babcock has won just about everything there is to win — Stanley Cup, Olympic gold, world championship gold, world junior gold and a CIS championship.

“He is very impressive, a presence when he walks in the locker room, a presence when he walks behind the bench,” Yzerman said. “I’m not the least bit surprised he’s lasted this long, being successful. He’s going to be around a lot longer.”

The only major trophies Babcock is missing are the Memorial Cup and the World Cup. He’ll be behind the bench for Canada in September’s World Cup.

“I had my kicks at the can (in junior),” Babcock said. “I had good teams when I was in Spokane, too. We had lots of opportunity (to win a Memorial Cup). We didn’t get it done. I haven’t won a World Cup. I haven’t won a second Stanley Cup. There’s lots of things I haven’t won.”

Toronto Star

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