By Neale McDevitt
For Mike Babcock (BEd 86), it was the perfect confluence of hockey events. In town for the NHL’s Jan. 25 All-Star Game as one of the assistant coaches of the Western Conference team, the former Redmen captain also laced up his skates for McGill’s Open House alumni hockey game (“My groin is killing me,” Babcock quipped to the Canadian Press). And, on Jan. 23, he lent a helping hand at a Redmen hockey practice.
Babcock has always worn his love of McGill on his sleeve – or at least around his neck. As the coach of the defending Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings, he has proudly donned his McGill tie behind the bench for important games (including Game 5 of last year’s Stanley Cup Finals). And although he visits McGill as often as possible, his busy schedule and the fact Detroit plays in the Western Conference mean he doesn’t get to Montreal very often.
Earlier, Redmen hockey coach Martin Raymond had left Babcock a message asking about his plans for All-Star Week. Without hesitation, Babcock offered his services. “He said he would do anything – run a drill, place pucks – he just wanted to contribute,” Raymond said.
Babcock met with the coaches beforehand, going over ways to improve the power play. Staying for the 45-minute practice, the former Redmen defenceman ran a warm-up drill and gave individual advice to players.
Not all Babcock’s counsel was related to winning faceoffs and improving the penalty kill. “Mike and I talked about opportunities for lawyers in the NHL,” said foward Eric L’Italien, who also happens to be a law student.
It isn’t every day university hockey players have a Stanley Cup champion laying out pylons for them. Needless to say, the Redmen were stoked. “It’s unbeleivable how intense Mike is,” said L’Italien. “You don’t have a choice but to go hard because unconciously you’re thinking, ‘maybe he’ll notice me.’”
“The players were pretty excited,” Raymond said. “They worked extremely hard and at the end of practice Mike said he was really impressed.
“Afterward I kidded them that I was pretty impressed, too.”
Raymond, who has just coached his 500th game for the Redmen, said Babcock has always been accessible. “I text message Mike once or twice a year with questions about coaching,” he said. “It’s nice to know that Mike is always just a phone call away.”