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Babcock returns to Detroit as Maple Leafs coach

NHL.com @NHL

Mike Babcock returned to Joe Louis Arena on Friday as coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs for a preseason game against the Detroit Red Wings, the team he coached the 10 previous seasons.

"Obviously it's different," Babcock said before the game. "It's been, [with] the lockout, 10 years; it'll be 12 years since I walked in with the other team, a long time."

Babcock said he took advantage of his knowledge of the neighborhood.

"I had a great tailor here, guy that cut my hair for 10 years. I had a great [place] to have breakfast for four bucks," Babcock said. "I knew where to go … all those things are just part of your life."

Babcock left the Red Wings and was hired by the Maple Leafs on May 20.

"I just felt my time had come to an end here in Detroit and I wanted to get a new opportunity," the 52-year-old said. "Toronto's a beautiful city, an Original Six franchise with close proximity to Detroit, worked out real good for myself."

It led to Jeff Blashill, an assistant under Babcock and coach of the Red Wings' American Hockey League affiliate in Grand Rapids for the past three seasons, being hired as Detroit's coach.

"I wouldn't be standing here today if it wasn't for Mike, at least not at this moment. It might have taken me longer, without question," Blashill said. "Mike's somebody who I learned a ton from, both the year I worked for him and the three years after."

Red Wings players said they were looking forward to facing their former coach.

"I don't know if we'll be looking at him too much on the bench, but it'll be fun," forward Gustav Nyquist said. "I think we're excited."

The Red Wings and Maple Leafs play a regular-season game next Friday in Detroit.

"[Friday] is the first time Mike comes back, but I think following Friday will be bigger," Red Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg told The Detroit News on Thursday.

Babcock's presence will add to an Atlantic Division rivalry created three seasons ago when the Red Wings moved to the Eastern Conference.

"It's exciting," Detroit forward Johan Franzen said. "It's going to be maybe a little bit more noise for each game than usual. It's going to be fun to have that competition going."

Babcock on Thursday was told Detroit general manager Ken Holland was looking forward to competing with and defeating his friend.

"He might have the upper hand for a short period here, but we'll see over time though," Babcock told the Maple Leafs website.

Game time is 7:30 p.m. (TSN4, FS-D+).

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