January 25th marked a much-needed victory for the Montreal Canadians as they hosted the Red Hot Detroit Red Wings who at the time were coasting on a 16 game win streak. I think it is safe to say that most fans would think that the struggling Habs would be in for another tough night, however the tables were turned and Montreal found themselves skating circles around the Wings with the final score favoring ‘les bleu-blancs-rouge’ 7-2.
Given the time in Montreal, Red Wings coach Mike Babcock took the opportunity to visit is Alma Mater at McGill. On January 24th, Coach Babcock was the guest of honor at a McGill Alumni Cocktail event. Then on January 26th Babcock found himself at McConnell Arena watching the Martlet hockey practice and then speaking to the team in the dressing room after. It is quite obvious of the importance that Babcock places on McGill. The McGill community and atmosphere is something that Babcock finds important. "I’m proud to have gone to McGill. When I was here, I didn’t know what McGill was about," Babcock explained. "I didn’t know that everyone I met studied harder than me and had a plan way different than mine. That affected my life. I’m thankful to have been part of something bigger." This realization of the importance of McGill and what it did for Babcock is displayed each year when he returns to McGill to ‘say hello’ to old friends and check out the McGill hockey teams.
Two of the current McGill Martlet hockey players, Stacie Tardiff and Lainie Smith had the opportunity to attend the Alumni function, where Coach Babcock spoke about his time at McGill, and how that impacted his career as he has moved through the coaching ranks. Fourth year senior Stacie Tardif explained, “He spoke about his beginnings and his McGill career, of which he entered not knowing what he was getting himself into. Many, I am sure, were able to relate to what he was saying, especially the younger crowd. Most of us simply go through the motions of our everyday lives and hope that this leads us to something bigger and better. He encouraged the younger generations to simply do what we do everyday as a career, if possible”.
Fourth year kinesiology senior and Martlet forward Lainie Smith talked about the culture that Babcock has established in Detroit. “The way Mr. Babcock spoke about the Detroit organization made me realize that our programs are very similar in nature. He spoke about the dynamic of their team in a similar manner to which many of us would speak about the Martlets. It is a culture not just a team. It is a way of life that you can choose to be a part of to better all of those around you to make your group stronger as a whole”. Smith went on to further say “This ‘lifestyle’ is not about individual points, someone ‘stealing’ your spot on the first line or even doing what is best for yourself. To strive to be the best, which is a point of parity between the Redwings and the Martlets, you have to learn to do what’s best for the team. Extra skating even when you may not want to (but know deep down you need to), helping out a younger teammate who you want to see grow and excel or even learning and accepting a new role on the ice are all a part of building a successful program”.
Tardif recalled one particular story that she felt she could relate with. “During the question period, someone asked him about the loss the Canadian Olympic team suffered in the preliminary rounds and how it had affected the team. Similarly, our team had just been faced with a similar disappointing defeat and I was interested in hearing his answer. Although the person who asked the question had a negative outlook on this defeat, Mike Babcock turned it around and said that the defeat actually came at a perfect time. He spoke about past world championship teams that had never been faced with defeat and therefore, going into final games, came out the losers because these teams though themselves. Coach Babcock believed that this loss against the Russia team allowed the Canadian team to see that this was not going to come easy for them, that they were in fact defeatable and that they would have to work hard, every single step of the way, taking every opponent seriously. His outlook on the loss made me realize how perfectly timed and how important our loss (a loss that the Martlet Hockey team suffered in January) would be to the future success of our team. Our team now knows that we are defeatable and that we must in fact prepare ourselves for every single game and opponent like they are the first place team”.
The Martlet Head Cocah Peter Smith was thrilled to have Babcock watch the practice and speak to his players afterwards. “It’s good for the players to hear a coach with a different perspective. Mike was great. The Martlets and the Red Wings actually have a lot in common. As Mike pointed out, both teams work hard, play with structure, have good skill level, and want to play a high tempo game”. Smith and Babcock also shared a similar experience in 2010 at the Vancouver Olympics. “We didn’t get a chance to spend a lot of time together at the Olympics. Breakfast every once in a while. You are just so busy and focused on coaching your own team. I am sure glad it worked out well for both of us”.
Both Stacie and Lainie enjoyed their experience meeting and listening to Coach Babcock. It was interesting for them to be able to relate so much to a man we see on the Television more often then not. They felt that the message Babcock spoke about at both the Alumni event and in the Martlet dressing were critical to their success and will continue to reinforce Babcocks beliefs with their teammates.
Lainie concluded, “I think that having Mr. Babcock speak to our team was an amazing opportunity for all of us as hockey players but also as young adults and students. He not only spoke about hockey but also about his career path and his family. He was, in fact, a McGill hockey player as all of us sitting in that dressing room are. We are all student-athletes, daughters, sisters and partners with dreams for our future that may be clear to some, but unclear to others. He reassured us that this was okay- we do not need to know what we want to do with the rest of our lives but rather take advantage of what we have now and really make the best of it. I found not only this message but the passionate manner in which it was delivered to be extremely inspiring as it really revealed to everyone in the room that he truly believed in every word he spoke”.