2012 IIHF World Championship: Mike Babcock’s golden memories

By IndepthAfrica
In Hockey
May 12th, 2012
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Mike Babcock became the first ever Triple Gold Club coach as a result of Canada’s win at the 2010 Olympics on the afternoon of February 28, 2010. The score was Canada 3-United States 2. The deciding goal was scored by Sidney Crosby at 7:40 of overtime. Those are only the bare facts behind a complex drama and thought process that went into Crosby’s goal.

“We went there to leave no doubt that hockey was our game and we were the greatest in the world at it,” he explained. “In the end, that’s what we were able to do.”

Easier said than done.

Pressure. Hockey was born in Canada, and the nation’s expectations for gold for the men’s team was astronomical. How did the players cope? How did Babcock prepare himself and his players?

“Preparation alleviates pressure,” Babcock started. “Having the resume of being in big games over time – the players, the coaches, the managers – alleviates pressure. Believing alleviates the pressure. Everyone has a different definition of pressure. Mine is that it means you have a chance. If you go there, and your team is no good, there’s no pressure. I think everybody wants a chance. I think the best of the best believe that they are attracted to pressure because over a number of opportunities, you almost relish it. You wait for it. You like it. And most of us had been through a number of opportunities.”

Before he travelled to Vancouver, Babcock dealt with the one negative he could possibly imagine of his Olympic experience, and once dealt with, it never entered his mind again.

“Before the Olympics, in your heart and mind, you think you can get it done. But there are no guarantees. My wife and I sat down with my kids before I left, and we talked about doing the best we can and being able to deliver, but there’s a chance we won’t. If we don’t, someone’s going to be blamed for it. We’re going to be the same people, have the same family, be doing the same things, whether we win or we don’t win.”

Canada’s run to gold was not smooth. The team had to go to a shootout to win its second game, against Switzerland, and the third game was a defining moment. That 5-3 loss to the United States featured some weak goaltending from Martin Brodeur, and Babcock put in Roberto Luongo for the rest of the tournament.

In the gold-medal game, an impressive 2-0 lead vanished before the medals could be presented, and joy turned to panic in the hearts and minds of the country as it watched Zach Parise tie the game with only 24 seconds left in the third period and goalie Ryan Miller on the bench. It was at this moment that Babcock started to work his real magic.

“We were probably fortunate in some ways that time was running out, so we could get into the dressing room and re-group, talk about how we were going to play four-on-four,” he started.

“We got to the dressing room and the players went to their room and the coaches met. We talked about how we were going to play four-on-four, and then I prepared myself for what I was going to tell the players when I walked back into the room with about seven minutes left. The players had settled themselves down, and I talked about what we’d do on d-zone [defensive zone] faceoffs and what we’re going to do in the o-zone [offensive zone], how we’re going to play. I told them there is so much talent on the ice this thing is going to be over fast, and one of you is going to be a hero for the rest of your life in the next seven or eight minutes. And that’s what happened.”

And his name was Sidney Crosby.

But didn’t Babcock’s thinking run in contrast to the Americans, who were the heavy underdogs, had nothing to lose, and faced no comparable pressure to their opponents?

“I never thought about the U.S. one time,” he said. “It wasn’t about them; it was about us. I just thought we were going to be able to get it done. I don’t spend a whole lot of time thinking about the negative side of things. Deal with that when it happens. I’ve lost in game seven of the Stanley Cup finals twice. I had a long trip with the team and my family home from New Jersey, and a long drive from the Joe [Louis Arena]. It rips your heart out. The next day you wake up, and you’re proud of what you’ve accomplished.”

Babcock’s confidence with his overtime game plan is remarkable and impressive. It shows clearly that he out-coached U.S. coach Ron Wilson at the very moment it counted the most.

“I said put your foot on the gas and let’s go get ‘em. It wasn’t about gambling. We just thought this was our opportunity and this was our time. That was our mantra the whole tournament. It doesn’t mean you’re not patient or you’re not diligent, but let’s let it go. To me, being cautious never got me anywhere. I don’t think that the people who are pushing it every day as the best of the best are going about it with caution. I think the first two shifts were fairly even, and from that point on we took over and won the game.”

In retrospect, no Canadian would have wanted the game to end after regulation and the score 2-1 when they could have had a Crosby golden goal as an alternate ending. Not so for Babcock and the team.

“I think for the people involved, it wouldn’t have mattered how it went. It was the process. Your Olympic dream, your Olympic opportunity, has to do with getting to camp, with representing your country, getting better as a team every day. In the end, Sid is one of those guys who was able to deliver, but there were lots of guys who were able to deliver under the scrutiny and under the pressure in Canada.”

Babcock expanded. “The thing for me is that being an Olympian is beyond special. Even people who aren’t sports fans, like my wife, watch the Olympics. You’ll see this summer for two weeks [during the London Olympics] people will catch themselves watching fencing – and they don’t even know what fencing is. It’s an Olympic sport. And so, to share that with your country, and to do it in hockey, which is the pulse of Canada, made it spectacular. But I don’t know that winning in overtime made it any more special for us. We just wanted to win.”

With all of his success, Babcock hasn’t developed particularly close relationships with his players, but he acknowledges there is something there, something special, something forever. Nonetheless, Babcock had the misfortune of being the only member of the team whose NHL team, Detroit, played the next night following the gold-medal win. His celebrations were short-lived.

“I went out with the staff, had a nice dinner and a few drinks, got back to my hotel room about three-thirty, got in a cab at five-thirty, and took a flight to Colorado [for the game]. My assistant coaches ran the morning skate, and our team proceeded to go 16-2-1 so we could make the playoffs. You just get on with your life. When you take your equipment off and it’s over, it’s really over. You have all these memories. If you win the Cup, they can’t take it away from you. If you win the Olympics, they can’t take it away from you. You see the guys that you won with, and there’s a bond there forever.”

The residual effect is strong with Babcock. He may live in the present and move on with his life every morning he gets out of bed, but he knows what’s important and what’s not.

“I remember moments – the goal, the celebration, being in the dressing room afterwards and the players not wanting to take their equipment off, the loss to the U.S. and our meeting after, the day before the preparation for the Russians, when Tessa [Virtue] and Scott [Moir] won gold, the day before the gold-medal game going to watch [Canadian curler] Kevin Martin and see the ice water run through his veins and see him deliver, just made the hair on your back stand on end – these are all moments that stand out for me.”

And 33 million Canadians watching Crosby score for Canada is a memory that will also live on forever. Babcock was right there.

ANDREW PODNIEKS

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