The long-time NHL hockey coach is coming home as the new head coach of the Huskies men’s hockey team, and to a mixed response from the community.
As announced on Feb. 20 in a Huskie Athletics news release, Saskatchewan-raised Mike Babcock will take on the position coach Dave Adolph previously held for 27 years, after Adolph announced his retirement on Dec. 7, 2020. Chief athletics officer Dave Hardy says that they are “extremely fortunate the timing lined up” for Babcock to come back.
“Mike’s track record of success speaks for itself and he will be a great addition to Huskie Athletics, to the men’s hockey program and to the local hockey community,” Hardy said.
Babcock spent 17 seasons with the NHL, coaching three teams between 2002 and 2019. His most successful stint was with the Detroit Red Wings, leading them to their 2008 Stanley Cup win. Babcock is adorned with titles and medals, being the only coach in hockey history to have two Olympic gold medals, a Stanley Cup, a World Cup and wins in the world hockey and world junior championships.
Coming off a fantastic rookie season with the Huskies, forward Jared Dmytriw says that it is “pretty crazy” to have Babcock taking over, and emphasised his gratefulness for the retiring coach Adolph.
“He had such a successful career. I think it goes without saying for myself and all of my teammates that we can’t thank him enough for everything he’s done for us and the University of Saskatchewan,” Dmytriw said.
Hardy says the athletics office is happy to have such a high level coach as Babcock coming to join the Huskies ranks.
“This is an exciting and historic day for Huskie Athletics, and we are thrilled that Mike wants to come back home to lead our men’s hockey program,” Hardy said.
Hardy says the program is taking a step towards their goals with Babcock as the new coach.
“Our top priority, especially during these challenging circumstances, is to make Huskie Athletics the top program in the country for our remarkable student-athletes,” Hardy said.
Babcock will be leading the Huskies team on a “full-time volunteer basis” for two seasons. Babcock, who was unavailable for an interview, says in a news release that he is excited to work with Huskie athletes.
“This is a special place for me and I look forward to having the chance to help develop these young men,” Babcock said. “Saskatchewan has provided me many opportunities in my life and my career and I am truly excited about the opportunity to give back.”
Babcock has clarified that this position is intended to be temporary, with him filling the role of head coach while assisting with the search for a new long-term head coach.
“I think that he’ll help make the transition from Dave Adolph to the next coach easier,” says defenceman Shane Collins in an interview with the Sheaf.
The Huskies have big shoes to fill when it comes to replacing a coach like Adolph who generated so much success for the program.
“One thing that [is] really gonna be good for the program long term is just helping with that transition and helping relieve some of that pressure of trying to find ‘that guy’ to take over right away.” Collins said.
Babcock was most recently head coach for the Toronto Maple Leafs and was fired by the team on Nov. 20, 2019. At the time, the team was on a five-game losing streak. Babcock had three years remaining on his $50-million eight-year contract at the time of his firing, meaning that the Leafs will continue to pay him through 2023.
Weeks after his shocking departure, allegations of Babcock’s toxic player treatment started surfacing. Toronto Maple Leafs Mitch Marner shared a story about how in his rookie season, Babcock, his then-coach, made 19-year-old Marner rank his teammates based on how hard they worked. Babock then revealed the rankings to the players Marner had ranked at the bottom. Babcock has since issued an apology.
This was not the only report of Babcock’s toxicity.
In an interview with the Swedish newspaper Expressen, former Detroit Red Wing player Johan Franzen called Babcock an “extremely accurate and prepared” coach but “the worst person [he’s] ever met.”
In an episode of the podcast Spittin’ Chiclets, Franzen’s former teammate Chris Chelios says that Babcock’s treatment of Franzen was “one of the worst things [he’s] ever seen.” He says that Babcock “blatantly verbally assaulted” Franzen during Game 5 against Nashville of the 2012 playoff series. The incident was at a time when Franzen was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression following concussions throughout his career.
In the local hockey community there has been a mixed response to Babcock’s hiring, with people taking to social media to express their opinions. On Twitter, members of the greater hockey community have voiced worry and disappointment over Babcock’s return.
Welcome back to Saskatoon, Mike Babcock who will take over as head coach of @HuskiesMHKY
A University of Saskatchewan staff member who wished to remain anonymous says in a private Twitter message to the Sheaf that hiring Babcock was a “really bad move” by the university.
“It’s taking away from someone who could commit to the program long term … giving it to a known superstar with a bad history of treating young men badly who has no intention of being here long term,” the staff member said.
“Leadership has stars in their eyes, blinded.”
As for the players, fifth-year athlete and captain of the team Tanner Lishchynsky says that everyone in the team was surprised at the news, considering they did not find out about it until the announcement.
“I don’t think many people would have thought that Mike Babcock would have become our interim coach so guys were pretty surprised it happened and excited about the news,” Lishchynsky said.
Fourth-year forward Collin Shirley was one of the players to express his excitement at the unexpected hiring.
“It’s not often you get a coach of his stature who has won Olympic medals and a Stanley Cup coming to coach you,” Shirley said.
When asked about the allegations that follow Babcock, Collins says he was slightly concerned when he first heard the news.
“I would say when it first came out, I thought of it… Maybe you’re a little bit nervous. But the more I’m thinking of it, I’m super excited about it,” Collins said.
The players are definitely aware of Babcock’s reputation, but Dmytriw feels that this should not be his first impression here.
“For myself I’m not gonna let any of that carry over on my opinion on him. I can only base my opinion and decision on how he treats us,” Dmytriw said.
Babcock officially takes the reins of the Huskies team on May 1.
“I think he’s coming here for the right reasons,” Collins said. “He has an opportunity to work and develop with some younger players as well as an opportunity to work on his coaching.”
Currently, the potential fall schedule has not yet been released for the Huskies. Fans will have to wait for their first look at the new head coach.
J.C. Balicanta Narag | Editor-in-Chief
Photo: Rebecca Cooke via Instagram @huskieathletics