Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Maple Leafs Need Babcock the 'School Teacher' before Babcock the Winner

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Maple Leafs Need Babcock the 'School Teacher' before Babcock the Winner

Article excerpt

Leafs getting a 'school teacher' in Babcock

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TORONTO - Mike Babcock's shiny accomplishments, his Stanley Cup and Olympic gold medals, made him a $50-million man. His teaching skills made him coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

At some point over the next eight years, the Leafs hope to go deep in the playoffs and contend for a championship. Until then they'll set a foundation under Babcock, who calls himself a "school teacher."

Babcock's experience coaching junior and minor-league hockey and even the injury ravaged Detroit Red Wings of 2013-14 will be more useful to him in Toronto than recalling his greatest career triumphs. His task is taking over a team that finished 27th in the NHL and improving it.

"He has the ability to coach stars," team president Brendan Shanahan said Thursday. "But I've seen him also coach third- and fourth-liners and make them better.

"I've seen him coach guys that were playing in the East Coast League and suddenly they're very good NHL players. He has the ability to reach all people."

Babcock doesn't know yet which people he'll have to reach in Toronto with an off-season of roster decisions ahead for Shanahan, Mark Hunter, Kyle Dubas and whomever -- if anyone -- is brought in from the outside. Babcock doesn't have personnel-control stipulations in his contract, but this kind of long-term commitment means he'll have some input.

He deferred comments on players he has only evaluated from afar, like star winger Phil Kessel. After the Red Wings discussed acquiring defenceman Dion Phaneuf at the trade deadline, Babcock has some knowledge of the Leafs' captain but will need more.

"I'm going to get to know Dion, and he's going to get to know me," Babcock said. "I'm a fan of Dion. I think he's a good kid, and I think he works hard and he tries hard."

And yet, one of the criticisms of Leafs players after their season fell apart was that it appeared they weren't trying hard. Players insisted they were, but the mid-season collapse tarnished the team's reputation.

Babcock doesn't anticipate that will happen on his watch.

"We're going to be men," the 52-year-old from Saskatoon said. "We're going to be straight up and honest. …

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