In hockey, especially at a high level, there is only one of two fates certain for a coach: retirement or being fired.
It’s something Saskatchewan Huskies head coach Mike Babcock knows personally after being let go by the Toronto Maple Leafs in November of 2019.
The decorated coach has enjoyed a strong season in his return as a bench boss with his hometown Huskies. The team is currently wrapping up their regular season as they jockey for playoff positioning.
But for Babcock, the lone coach in the triple gold club (a World Championship, Olympic Gold Medal and Stanley Cup), this season has been special for more reasons than just his team’s success on the ice. It’s spending quality time with one of his staff, his son and assistant coach Michael Babcock.
“For me it’s been a dream come true,” Babcock said. “In the end you can have all of the awards, all of the Stanley Cups and gold medals that you want, but in the end it doesn’t matter. What matters is your family.”
The experience has been more than welcomed by the father and son, who haven’t lived close together since Michael was a teen when he moved to Fargo, N.D., to play in the USHL.
“Suddenly he’s got his own suite in the place that I’m living in close to campus here and I’m working with him every day, so for me it’s been an unbelievable experience,” Mike said.
“It’s been awesome,” Michael echoed. “He’s been extremely helpful with my development as not only a player and a person but now as a coach.”
The young Babcock grew up experiencing an atmosphere that most aspiring coaches could only dream of, getting daily insight as to how a professional coach prepares and executes their game planning process.
“When your dad’s a coach, even when you don’t want to, you end up watching video and you understand the game pretty good,” the elder Babcock explained. “A big part of coaching is your relationship with people and your ability to talk and communicate and listen; and he seems to have a real good handle on that, a good presenter and has a good understanding of the game.”
“You build credibility with your meetings and your key points and stuff like that,” the young Babcock added. “That and catching things on the fly, showing guys and watching that lightbulb go off them. That’s something that I’ve tried to do and I think I’ve gotten better at it as the season has gone on.”
Although it’s the first time behind the bench for Michael, neither Babcock is unfamiliar with the collegiate hockey scene. It’s something that the younger Babcock has leaned on during his inaugural coaching season, being only three years removed from playing NCAA hockey at Merrimack College in Massachusetts.
“I think there’s a lot of different things that you can go and you can relate because you’re a certain points in your life that, you know, what makes sense for them. I’m also a student as well so … I’m studying just as hard as they are, too. There’s just different things that you can relate to.”
Over the course of this pandemic-shortened season, the veteran coach has been happy to see his son’s growth as he begins his journey behind the bench.
“He’s got a strong personality and believes things should be done a certain way, and so do I,” Mike said. “The bottom line is each and every day you’re in there trying to make each other better and I’m trying to give him the best help I can to get him off on the right foot if he wants to get involved in this coaching like he seems to.
“When Mike said he wanted to come join the coaching staff it was a great opportunity for me to interact with him every day and to give him an opportunity to build his own foundation. I don’t think you can give your kids confidence, I think you can help them earn their confidence and that’s what we’re trying to do here. “