MONTREAL – Mike Babcock has coached internationally twice before, and he has won gold twice. Today, Team Canada general manager Steve Yzerman is giving Babcock the chance to complete what would be an incredible hat trick – to coach his nation to gold at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver next February.
Babcock’s assistants will be Lindy Ruff, Ken Hitchcock, and Jacques Lemaire, all with decades of experience at the highest levels.
The announcement was made in Montreal just a few blocks from McGill University, Babcock’s alma mater, prior to the start of the NHL Entry Draft, slated to begin at the Bell Centre on Friday.
Babcock first rose to international prominence in 1997 when he led Canada’s juniors to a gold medal at the World U20 championship, the nation’s record-setting fifth gold in a row.
In 2004, he was named an assistant coach to Canada for the World Championship along with Tom Renney, but when head coach Joel Quenneville fell ill, Babcock took over and led the nation to an extraordinary gold medal despite having mere hours to prepare for the team’s first game. An Olympic gold would give Babcock top honours at the three most prestigious levels of international hockey.
A native of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Babcock spent most of the 1990s coaching in the Western Hockey League, first with Moose Jaw and later with Spokane. He was named head coach of the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim in 2002. In his rookie season he led the Ducks to the Cup finals, but the year after the team failed to make the playoffs and he was fired.
After the lost season of 2004-05, Babcock joined the Detroit Red Wings as head coach, a position he has held ever since. He led the Wings to the Stanley Cup in 2007-08, and this past season the team lost in game seven of the finals to the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Babcock will be joined by three men who have plenty of NHL and international experience to draw on. Lindy Ruff has been head coach of Buffalo for the past eleven years, the longest consecutive streak in the league. As well, he coached Canada to the gold-medal game of the 2009 World Championship in Berne, Switzerland, losing to Russia, 2-1, in a thrilling final.
Hitchcock has coached in the NHL since 1995, with Dallas, Philadelphia, and currently Columbus. As well, he was head coach for Canada at the 2008 World Championship in Halifax and Quebec City, winning a silver medal, and has been an assistant coach for Canada on several occasions, notably the 2002 and 2006 Olympics and the 2004 World Cup of Hockey.
Jacques Lemaire gives the Canadian coaching staff an important French-Canadian element, but his resume speaks for itself. Although he has no experience with Hockey Canada in international hockey, he coached the Minnesota Wild for the last eight years before retiring a few weeks ago. Lemaire’s Hall of Fame career as a player with the Montreal Canadiens featured an amazing eight Stanley Cup victories.
Ironically, while Yzerman and Babcock work together on a daily basis in Detroit, they will rely heavily on their recent nemesis if Canada is to win gold. The Penguins were captained by Sidney Crosby, and Babcock will certainly have Crosby on Team Canada for Vancouver.
This has been a busy week for GM Yzerman. He was elected into the Hockey Hall of Fame on Tuesday, and right after naming Babcock his Olympic coach, “Stevie Y” will continue preparations for the NHL Entry Draft with the Red Wings.
FOOTNOTE: The Team Canada management group along with the coaching staff will be finalizing an invitation list and details for the upcoming orientation camp from August 24-28 in Calgary. The invitation list will be announced shortly.