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Babcock meshes perfectly with Canadian team

Saturday, 02.27.2010 / 8:38 PM / All-Access Vancouver

By Dan Rosen - NHL.com Senior Writer

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Babcock meshes perfectly with Canadian team
He's won the Stanley Cup and coached in three different Finals, and now Mike Babcock stands a win away from leading Canada to the gold medal at the Olympics.
VANCOUVER -- He speaks during his press conferences like someone who knows exactly what he's talking about, and that's because Mike Babcock does. He talks intensely and with passion about Canadian pride, drinking in the pressure, wrapping your arms around the opportunity and trying your best every day because he believes in all of it.

Babcock does not beat around the bush or tell you what you want to hear. He tells you what he thinks, like it or not. Sometimes he'll even throw a question back in a reporter's face like he did Saturday just to make his point more emphatic, more impassioned.

Babcock does the same thing with his players, which is why a guy like Rick Nash, who has waged battles against the coach for four-plus seasons in the Central Division, appreciates the chance to play for him and maybe win an Olympic gold medal with him, as Canada faces the United States on Sunday (3:15 p.m., NBC, CTV, TSN, SNET, V, RDS).

"I knew he always has teams that work hard and are positionally sound, but I'm impressed by his coaching style," Nash told NHL.com. "He's quick and to the point and his voice is really heard in the dressing room. It's been great to play for him."

Babcock rarely, if ever, talks about himself. He was asked Saturday by NHL.com to describe what guiding this Canadian national team to a gold medal would mean to him, and only him, but his answer strayed into the "we" of everything.

"To share this with my kids and my wife and extended family and Canadians has been fantastic," Babcock said. "What I always say to myself and what I tell my kids is do the best you can each and every day. That's what we are trying to do here and that's all you can ask. We have an opportunity."
 
Babcock has had opportunities like this before, and he's made good on a number of them.

On three different occasions he has woken up in the morning knowing he could win the Stanley Cup later that night. He did in 2008. Babcock also led Canada to gold at the 1997 World Juniors and 2004 World Championships.

As a young pup in the coaching world he won a Canadian university national title at the University of Lethbridge in 1994 and a provincial collegiate championship at Red Deer College in 1989.

At every stop along his road to Vancouver, Babcock has devoured the pressure as if he was biting into a juicy hamburger. He's not going to stop now, not when the pressure is ramped up to ludicrous speed.

"I wouldn't be doing what I do if I didn't love pressure," Babcock said. "I mean, it's about adrenaline and you're an adrenaline junkie if you're in sports. All you have to do is watch the skiers and the speed skaters. The highs are very high. If you have been in the Olympic village like I have, you have seen people totally elated and you've seen people totally crushed. But the reason they are in it is because there are two sides of the equation. That's what makes your job exciting and I think that's what this is all about."

"I knew he always has teams that work hard and are positionally sound, but I'm impressed by his coaching style. He's quick and to the point and his voice is really heard in the dressing room. It's been great to play for him."
-- Rick Nash on Coach Mike Babcock

Babcock's passion translates well to his players, even the guys here in the Olympics who had no idea what to expect from him when they were picked to play for this exclusive squad.

"The old school part about him is his passion and his fire, and you have to love that as a player," Eric Staal said. "It makes you want to play hard in front of him."

"Unbelievable coach," Roberto Luongo told NHL.com. "He's a really intense guy and it's amazing how well he knows his system and what type of motivation he uses to get at his players. He's probably one of the best (coaches) I have ever had."

As much as the players love his passion, they also appreciate Babcock's pace. He talks fast, acts fast and instructs fast.

"Some coaches can drag on at times, but in a tournament like this you just have to know a few keys and go from there. That's what he has done," Nash said. "I have never had someone like Mike. His meetings don't last long. He's right to the point and that's it."

It's the adrenaline that gets him going and the intensity that speeds him up. Babcock doesn't see a reason to spend too much time on one thing.

Team Canada Gear"He knows the game very well and explains it very well," said Jacques Lemaire, the veteran coach of the Devils and an assistant to Babcock here. "He's very intense, very intense, and I think it's good. It makes the players react the same way. They get on the ice and they're intense. They want to do well and they want to do what he's asking of them."

In the big picture, all Babcock is asking of them is to work as hard as they can and try their best. It sounds so simple, so intramural, but he's not exactly a complicated guy so he doesn't try to confuse things for his players either.

Babcock even referred to himself as "a bit of a redneck" the other day.

"He says a lot of great things in the locker room that sometimes have nothing to do with our technical or tactical game," Jonathan Toews told NHL.com. "He's in there bringing a lot of great ways to think and great positive ideas. We're all on the same page now."

They are because Babcock turned this group of stars into a team.

The payoff could come in the form of gold on Sunday.

"It's a special, special thing," Babcock said. "Whether it was the team I coached at the University of Lethbridge or the World Junior team or the Stanley Cup team or the World Championship team, if you win together you walk together forever. Here's an opportunity of a lifetime and you want to make good on it. That's what everyone came to these Olympics for, to be the best they could possibly be. We have a shot."

Contact Dan Rosen at drosen@nhl.com