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Babcock vs. Quenneville tough choice for Canada GM

by Tim Wharnsby

TORONTO -- Doug Armstrong had a difficult decision to make when it came time to name the Team Canada coach for the 2016 World Cup of Hockey.

The evidence Armstrong, GM of Team Canada, had to consider was Mike Babcock's international success vs. Joel Quenneville's recent run of success with three Stanley Cups in six seasons with the Chicago Blackhawks.

In the end, Armstrong went with Babcock, 52, who not only steered the Detroit Red Wings to the 2008 Stanley Cup but led Canada to back-to-back Olympic gold-medal performances in 2010 (Vancouver) and 2014 (Sochi). Babcock is in his first season as coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Quenneville was named as one of Team Canada's assistant coaches, along with Claude Julien of the Boston Bruins, Barry Trotz of the Washington Capitals and Bill Peters of the Carolina Hurricanes.

"In reality I was torn," Armstrong said. "It was a two-horse race for me. I wasn't torn at the final decision, but I thought we had to give Joel Quenneville the opportunity for us to discuss him. You just can't get past three Stanley Cups in six years. What excites me is having both guys on the staff.

"When I talked to Joel about the process he was very understanding of the situation we were in, and he said, 'I want to be part of Team Canada in any fashion,' which made this that much easier to do. I am looking forward to getting to learn from him and work with him."

Babcock and Quenneville, 57, are rivals but friends. While not close, they worked on the same staff leading up to the 2004 IIHF World Championship in Prague.

Quenneville was slated to be the coach that spring but was forced to step away because of a health issue just before the tournament began. Canada's then-general manager Jim Nill named Babcock to replace Quenneville.

Canada won the gold medal which elevated Babcock's status as a possible Olympic coach down the road. Six years later Babcock became the first coach in history to join the Triple Gold Club, adding Olympic gold to his World Championship gold and Stanley Cup championship.

"[Hockey Canada president and CEO] Tom Renney was on the staff [in 2004] that year too," Babcock said.

Renney later became an assistant under Babcock in Detroit. But despite their close friendship and Babcock's success, Renney said Babcock wasn't a certainty for the Team Canada coaching job.

"We gave it considerable consideration, to be honest with you," Renney said. "As you weigh it out you factor in the international component. That's the tipping point right there. Mike has all that international success."

Ever since the World Championship gold in 2004, Babcock has had a soft spot for Quenneville. So when the latter was let go by the Colorado Avalanche after the 2007-08 season, Babcock offered Quenneville a position with the Red Wings coaching staff.

Quenneville opted to take a scouting position with the Blackhawks and wound up replacing Denis Savard early in the 2008-09 season.

"We're not best friends or anything like that," Babcock said. "But we know each other. We've had lots of fun coaching against each other. He's a real good coach and has done a good job."

Despite the fact Babcock and Quenneville are rivals, Babcock never has hesitated to invite counterparts to coach with him on various Canada teams.

"I guess the way I look at it is you're trying to evolve each year and you're trying to get better," Babcock said. "Are they going to get stuff from me? I sure hope so. Am I going to get stuff from them? Sure. Then we're all going to try and get better."

Take a glance at all the coaches around the League who have been on Babcock's staff in Detroit: Todd McLellan (Edmonton Oilers), Jeff Blashill (Red Wings), Peters and Paul MacLean (Anaheim Ducks).

"I've never hidden anything from them," Babcock said. "I do what I do and then get on with it.

"Whoever has the best idea, we go with it. It's not Mike Babcock's way; it's Team Canada's way."

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