Babcock brings Olympic moment home
To hear Mike Babcock tell the story, he’s been extremely fortunate to be in the right place at the right time. Another way to look at it is because of Babcock’s presence, it became the right time.
Babcock, a self-professed dreamer and one of hockey’s most accomplished coaches, shared his philosophy on coaching and on life at the 1st Annual Calgary Alumni & Friends Dinner in early March. He says it’s no accident that good things come from people who think big.
“I’m a big believer that if you don’t dream, you cap your potential. I’m 46 now but I haven’t stopped dreaming,” says Babcock. “To me, the greatest part about living is that you are in charge of that dream, you’re not in bed at night with your eyes closed, you’re actually living that dream, you can make a difference in that dream and you can decide where it’s going to go.”
Babcock, who coached the 1993-94 University of Lethbridge Pronghorns men’s hockey team to the institution’s first national championship, has gone on to experience success at every level. He recently led the Canadian Men’s Olympic Hockey Team to a gold medal at the Vancouver 2010 Olympics. Along the way he’s won a World Junior title, a Men’s World Championship gold medal and a Stanley Cup, and yet he consistently refers to the U of L triumph as one of his most satisfying accomplishments.
“I still look at that ring fondly,” he says.
Then, while showing the packed ballroom at The Westin Calgary a picture of himself enjoying a Stanley Cup celebration with the Detroit Red Wings, he adds, “When I look at that picture, if you think that was any more exciting at the time than winning that national championship at the U of L, you’re mistaken, it’s just all what you’re prepared for at that time in your life.”
If Babcock is anything, he is true to his roots. When speaking about building relationships he is honest and genuine, and is eager to share his successes.
“What he preaches he believes,” says Trevor Ellerman (BMgt ’94), a forward from the 1993-94 championship team. “I’ve talked to him every couple of years since then and what he’s saying he absolutely believes, and when you call him up and you need something, he goes out of his way to make it happen.”
Babcock is the first to admit he’s not a polished public speaker, saying he’s much more comfortable talking to 20 players in a dressing room setting. That seemed to endear him even more to the 450-plus people at the event. His stories of interacting with Canada’s Olympic heroes, both on and off the ice, took everyone inside the experience, but he was quick to bring the star gazing into perspective.
“Every once in a while, in life you don’t know why you are blessed, you don’t know why you have an opportunity to go to the University of Lethbridge and set yourself up for the future or why your kids are healthy or why someone just reached out and touched you,” says Babcock. “Sometimes I don’t even know what I do, I’ve just been really fortunate.”
Understanding he has the ability to influence change, he looks to use his celebrity in a positive way.
“I tell our players every day, we have a chance, with the notoriety we’ve been given, with the game, to make a difference in the world,” says Babcock. “It’s an amazing thing if you’re willing to step up and make a difference and to me that’s what dreaming is all about.”
Concluding his presentation with a photo of himself hoisting the Stanley Cup, flanked by his family on a dock at his lakeside summer residence in Saskatchewan, Babcock summarized his philosophy.
“The thing I think is really important is that unless you have someone to share these things with, it doesn’t much matter,” he says.
“In the end, that’s what it is about,” he continues. “The things that are special for Mike Babcock about being from western Canada are these things, grassroots things, being around real people, trying to make a difference, standing up for what you believe in, sharing yourself and building relationships, so you have someone to talk to as you get older.”
• On campaigning for the Olympic head coaching position with Red Wings vice-president Steve Yzerman, the Olympic team general manager. “I wanted to be the coach of this team and I made it very clear to Steve Yzerman. I didn’t know if that was a good thing or a bad thing because when you work with a guy, sometimes, it’s kind of like your wife, she knows you pretty well and she doesn’t like you sometimes.”
• On why Canada’s Olympic team members are successful. “Everyone thinks they’re the best because of their skill level but the real super, super, superstars in the game are great because of soul. They’ve got something more than everybody else, they’ve got a way to reach out and make the people around them better, they’ve got something they dig down and get when it matters, they get on their toes and go after people and they do it night after night.”
• On the strength of family to the Olympic players. “They’ve got something special about them and then when you meet their parents and their families at these tournaments, it’s not hard to figure out why they are so successful, because they surround themselves with great people and their parents have built a fantastic foundation for them.”
• On the Olympic village. “To sit in the village and to watch the athletes come in, some absolutely elated and some absolutely crushed, it was an experience I’ll never forget. Just being around passionate people fired up about their country, I thought was truly inspiring to our players.”
• On Sidney Crosby, who scored the Olympic winning goal for Canada. “I can’t even imagine, at 22 years of age, the amount of pressure this kid is under, but he was fantastic and he delivered for us.”
• On being a proud Canadian. “Winning was unbelievable but the bringing together of Canadians and Canadians showing their pride was something that will always stand out for me.”