Mike Babcock has begun his first, and perhaps only, season as head coach of the University of Saskatchewan Huskies.
In February, the 58-year-old agreed to coach the Saskatchewan Huskies, replacing Dave Adolph, who retired in April after 28 years with the program.
Babcock grew up in Saskatoon and played for the Huskies for one season in 1981-82. The decision to coach the team ultimately came down to spending more time with family and coaching alongside his son Michael, who is an assistant coach with the team.
“They talked to me about doing this. I know the president, knew the athletic director, but in the end when my son said to me, ‘Hey, I’m going to leave what I’m doing. I’ll get my MBA and I want to coach with you,’ then that’s what tilted me,” Babcock said.
The veteran coach is not new to post-secondary hockey. He was the head bench boss of the University of Lethbridge when the team captured the national championship in 1993-94.
But after spending 18 years with the NHL, Babcock is readjusting to coaching student athletes.
“They’re very professional. Their life is very structured. They work hard in school. They come to the rink and work hard and they seem to enjoy being with their families as well.”
The Huskies players are also adjusting. They admit it took time to get accustomed to getting coached by a man who they watched on television leading the Detroit Red Wings to a Stanley Cup and Canada to a IIHF World Championship and two Olympic gold medals.
“He’s a passionate guy and intense and he demands a lot, but he’s also a personable guy and a guy that kind of just likes being around the guys as well,” Huskies assistant captain Carter Folk said.
“So I think our group has responded well and just kind of embracing all of the knowledge that he has and trying to work for him.”
Through the first few weeks of the season, Babcock is enjoying the experience.
“What I found with the guys is they embrace working hard.
“When they come they workout hard, they train hard, they’re all in when they’re at the rink.”
Babcock’s results as a hockey coach are not in question. His accolades are many, including winning a Stanley Cup, IIHF World Championship and two Olympic gold medals.
However, some have questioned his tactics. Since being fired by the Toronto Maple Leafs in November 2019, some of his former players have accused Babcock of being verbally abusive and using intimidation.
But former Maple Leaf and current Edmonton Oilers forward Zach Hyman has a different perspective of his former coach.
“I think he’s a great coach. He’s one of the winningest coaches in the history of the game and I can’t say enough about how much he helped me and I don’t think I’d be here without having him as a coach,” Hyman said.
Babcock has taken over coaching duties of the UofS team on a temporary basis. He is not sure what the future holds after this season, but he is not ruling out a return to the NHL if presented with the opportunity.
“I plan on doing this until March and then I’m going to join my wife in Palm Springs and I’ll see what happens,” he said.
Babcock has achieved a lot as a coach, but how the final stage of his career unfolds will only be determined in time.