Babcock: Coach spreading his wings
Red Wings coach Mike Babcock, top, appeals to referee Paul Devorski in the first period of Game 3 of the Stanley Cup final Wednesday at Mellon Arena.
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It's not always easy to tell right away whether Mike Babcock is being funny, sarcastic, cocky or what.
Asked Wednesday after his team's 3-2 loss Game 3 of the Stanley Cup final what the Penguins did differently at home from Games 1 and 2, the first words out of the Detroit coach's mouth were, "Well, they won."
Asked before that game about top-line center Pavel Datsyuk, whose goals this postseason have all come on the road, Babcock answered, "That's good for us, isn't it?"
Asked about what appeared to be a punch thrown by the Penguins' Gary Roberts to the head of Red Wings center Johan Franzen in Game 2, Babcock wanted to know, "Does he have shoulder pads on his hands?"
And if anyone dares to ask a yes-or-no question, they had better be prepared for a one-word answer and a glare from his dark, intense eyes.
He can bite off his words. He can deadpan. He can blur the distinction.
Judging from his record, Babcock has another talent. He can coach.
In his first season as an NHL coach, he led Anaheim to the Stanley Cup final in 2003.
In his three seasons with the Red Wings, the team has reached 50 wins during the regular season each time and won the Presidents' Trophy for most points in the NHL twice, including this season.
Now Babcock has the deep, experienced Red Wings in the Stanley Cup final with a 2-1 series edge heading into Game 4 tomorrow night at Mellon Arena.
Babcock had no trouble giving his players the day off yesterday after the loss Wednesday. He apparently handles the veteran group well, even setting the tone for the team.
"I think he's real good at knowing when to be a little looser on the group, knowing when to push us a little bit more at other times," said 38-year-old team captain and defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom. "I think he's got a good feel of the group that he has.
"We have the core guys who have been here for a long time, too. He knows us pretty good, when he needs to push us, and when he needs to take it easy and have a little fun."
Perhaps that's why Babcock was upbeat and, at times, joking at a news conference yesterday at Mellon Arena.
His mood reflected, and perhaps dictated, his players' state of mind coming off the loss.
"The coach wants to come up and make sure that the players still feel confident, and we do," center Kris Draper said. "I mean, we still have a great feeling in our dressing room. And Mike's going to be the first one to tell you that, that we knew that this was going to be a series. And that's what it's turned into."
Babcock isn't above making mistakes or admitting to them.
Yesterday, he was asked to explain why he stands out among a lot of coaches for doing that, the example being his lament that he played some of his forwards too much in Game 3.
"I was talking to [former NHL and Team Canada coach Dave] King this morning, and I said, 'I'm from Saskatoon, and that's what you do,' " Babcock said.
"I don't know the answer to that question. Bottom line is players make mistakes. Coaches make mistakes. I'm not [saying] we didn't have a good plan, weren't trying to do the right thing. Sometimes, when you're trying to do the right thing, the wrong thing happens. That's life.
"You're trying to get better all the time. If not, somebody else has your job. And, to me, this is a great learning opportunity no matter how many times you've been here, how many times you've won."
And he has won.
Babcock, 45, guided Team Canada to a gold medal at the 2004 World Championships. As coach of the junior Spokane Chiefs, he was named Western Hockey League coach of the year twice, in 1996 and 2000. He won a Canadian university championship with Lethbridge in 1993-94.
Now he's chasing the biggest hockey prize of them all, the Stanley Cup.
And he's doing it in the shadow of retired Detroit coach Scotty Bowman, who won the Cup nine times, once with the Penguins and three times -- as recently as 2002 -- with the Red Wings.
Bowman is still around the team as a consultant and that's not at all uncomfortable for Babcock.
"I talk to Scotty lots," he said. "We talk about his kids, and we talk about what the weather's like in Florida. We talk about hockey, and we talk about lots of stuff. We talk about the best Pittsburgh team he ever coached that never won the Cup [in 1992-93].
"And we talk about if their coach does this, what am I going to do? And if he does that. Or did you like this player last night? Or what did you think of this? We go through it all.
"But I do that with lots of people, too. ... I always try to gather information."
First Published May 30, 2008 12:00 am