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Hall of Fame

Esteemed coach Drake to finally be in spotlight at Hall of Fame

Influential figure, with most wins in Canadian college history, being inducted Monday

by Mike Zeisberger @zeisberger / NHL.com Staff Writer

It was 6 a.m. in Edmonton, long before the sun harbored thoughts of peeking over the eastern horizon. It was the type of frosty winter morning when seeing your breath is a given.

For young Mike Gabinet, this was utopia.

It was the mid-1980s, and Gabinet estimates he was 7 or 8 at the time. On mornings like this, long before much of the world had wiped the sleep out of its eyes, he would be on the ice at the University of Alberta with the man he calls Gramps.

There they were, two lone figures on the ice at the university's Varsity Arena. Gabinet, the hockey-loving kid, and Clare Drake, the school's then-coach who is a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame's Class of 2017.

 

[RELATED: Hitchcock: Drake a hockey genius]

 

A grandfather passing on his hockey knowledge to his grandson. If ever there was a symbol of Drake, this was it. The man was always teaching. Even before dawn.

"Those moments with Gramps were so special," Gabinet said last week. "The rink was empty. Just him and I. He'd show me things like how to skate backwards, pivoting, things like that.

"I cherish those times."

Hours before the school bell would ring, Gabinet already was getting an education. In this case, his teacher was one of the most respected hockey coaches ever at any level.

About three decades later, Gabinet will be onstage representing Gramps when Drake is inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame on Monday. Drake, 89, lives in an assisted care facility in the Edmonton area and is unable to travel to Toronto for the ceremony. Instead, he'll watch it on television with wife Dolly and other family members.

"I just talked to Gramps the other day and he's so humbled by all of this," Gabinet said. 

Drake's career accomplishments are anything but humble, to say the least.

The winningest coach in Canadian college hockey history, Drake was coach of the University of Alberta for 28 years before leaving in 1989, finishing with 697 victories and six University Cup championships. He also coached the Edmonton Oilers during the 1975-76 World Hockey Association season and was a Winnipeg Jets assistant in 1989-90.

But Drake's imprint on the sport cuts far deeper than wins. His coaching teachings, tactics and philosophies, such as playing pressure defense on the penalty kill, were innovations that were far ahead of their time.

Drake's progressive thinking spawned a generation of coaches who considered him a mentor, including current NHL coaches Ken Hitchcock (Dallas Stars), Mike Babcock (Toronto Maple Leafs), Barry Trotz (Washington Capitals) and Bill Peters (Carolina Hurricanes).

In spreading his knowledge along the way, Drake was never shy in revealing any keys to his success, even if it meant they might be used against him by an opponent.

"When you're young you think everything is the biggest secret in the world," Trotz said. "And what you found out is that the smartest guys let all their secrets out. They want you to learn. They want you to be better.

"That was Clare Drake."

Gabinet said some coaches were at first caught off guard by Drake's candidness.

"Coaches who attended his many summer coaching symposiums would ask sometimes why he would be sharing his secrets like that," Gabinet said. "But that was Gramps. He wanted all coaches to get better."

Including his grandson.

Gabinet, 36, is in his first season as coach of the University of Nebraska Omaha. Inside his office at Baxter Arena, there is a series of binders with Drake's handwritten coaching notes inside.

"I found them a while ago and put them together, just like Gramps would have," Gabinet said. "From 1-on-1 battles to defensive systems, everything is organized, just like the way he used to do it.

"He was so far ahead of his time, so it's so neat to see some of those concepts still in place and the drills and teaching habits."

Gabinet and his team will be in Colorado Springs, Colorado, for games against Colorado College on Friday and Saturday. Gabinet on Sunday will fly to Toronto, where he'll be on the Hall of Fame stage the following night honoring his grandfather. He was reminded he will be doing so in front of many of the game's all-time greats.

"Thanks for telling me that. Now I'm nervous," Gabinet said with a chuckle. "It's amazing just to think about all those legends of the game.

"Gramps is going to be proud. I know how much I am of him."


****

Trotz was euphoric.

It was June 26, 2017, and it had just been announced that Drake had been elected to the Hall of Fame as a builder. Upon hearing the news, Trotz, could not contain his emotions.

The first thing he said?

"It's about time."

And then?

"What took them so long?"

And finally?

"Hallelujah!"

Hitchcock and Babcock said they had similar reactions. This is, as they are quick to point out, the Hockey Hall of Fame, not the NHL Hall of Fame.

As such, Hitchcock, Babcock and Trotz feel Drake's election has opened the door for the inclusion of other deserving candidates who have left their mark on the sport at levels other than the pros.

"This is an award -- and Clare would be the first guy to tell you this -- for the guys who coach on a plastic chair with no office, just come to the rink and coach," Hitchcock said. 

"This is a huge deal. What I mean by that is for all of the coaches who went to all of those summer clinics -- guys like myself, Barry, [Babcock], all of us, hundreds of us -- we thought the guys like Clare and Dave King and George Kingston and Tom Watt, they were icons to us. They opened their books and taught us how to coach. They were more than just university coaches, they were teachers. And for one of them to win this award, it just shows the recognition for every coach in every environment."

Babcock calls Drake the John Wooden of hockey. With UCLA, Wooden won 10 NCAA men's basketball championships in 12 seasons, including a record seven in a row from 1967-73. In the process, he developed a blueprint for life on and off the court called the Pyramid of Success, a ladder of achievement he preached to coaches and players long after his coaching career had ended.

Babcock sees a lot of similarities between Wooden and Drake.

"I'm a head coach today because of Clare Drake," Babcock said. "A lot of the tactical and strategical growth that Canadian hockey has enjoyed through the National Coaching Certification Program came from his contributions. 

"The biggest thing for me is that Clare Drake, if he was coaching in the NCAA, he'd be John Wooden. That's who he is. And that's how many people he's impacted. That's the kind of integrity he had, that's the kid of moral fiber he had. Most of the players he coached ended up being good people -- good doctors, good lawyers -- not necessarily good pro players, but what an impact he had on the community. And for coaches who fell under his influence along the way -- Dave King or Hitch or whomever -- he helped us all.

"I was fortunate enough to meet John Wooden when I coached in Anaheim. I had the great privilege to work with and learn from Scotty Bowman with the (Detroit) Red Wings. Clare Drake is a leader and builder like both of them, but never got the same recognition because most of his work was done outside the public eye.

"It was time to change that."

Consider it changed.

"It's a great thing," Trotz said. "A great thing."

 

****

Watt helped Drake coach the 1980 Canadian Olympic team.

"Most people don't remember being him a part of that," Watt said. "Most people remember the Miracle on Ice and the U.S. team. But even in Canada, most people couldn't tell you who was behind the bench for Canada.

"A lot of the things Clare did didn't get the spotlight."

In 15 seasons (1965-79, 1984-85), Watt coached the University of Toronto Blues to 11 conference titles and 9 Canadian Interuniversity Athletics Union national championships. As such, his admiration and success for what Drake achieved at the collegiate level is unbridled.

"I've said this before: When Clare retired from the University of Alberta as the winningest college hockey coach ever, his picture should have been on the cover of Time magazine," Watt said. "Had he accomplished what he accomplished in the United States, it would have been."

Gabinet does not think Gramps was ever looking for that type of recognition. 

"It's funny, but there's a saying that he's always used that kind of sums him up," Gabinet said. 

"Gramps always said, 'It's amazing what can be accomplished when no one cares who gets the credit.'"

On Monday night at the Hockey Hall of Fame, in front of some of the greatest to ever have laced up a pair of skates, Drake will finally get the credit he is due, whether he seeks it or not. 

"And he deserves it," Trotz said. "He's deserved it for a long time."

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