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Canadian coaching Denmark against home country at world junior championship

NHL.com @NHL

PARDUBICE, Czech Republic - With the doors of major junior hockey in Canada constantly closing in his face, Calgary hockey coach Ken Babey found one open for him in Denmark.

The 52-year-old is the head coach of the Danes at the world junior hockey championship. Winless Denmark is up against Canada (2-1) in the final preliminary-round game of Pool A on Monday (noon ET).

Babey, in his 20th season coaching the men's college hockey team at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT), began moonlighting for Denmark a year and a half ago.

After helping the country earn promotion from the 'B' to the 'A' world junior championship for the first time, he was invited to coach the Denmark juniors again in the top-tier tournament. Thus began his frequent trips between the two countries.

"It's exciting to take them there for the first time ever so my family agreed, my school agreed so here I am," Babey said. "My team is pretty supportive back home and the players at SAIT think this is a great opportunity.

"Our philosophy is, as a school and as a player, if you can get an experience like this, go for it."

Babey (pronounced BAB-ee) has coached Canadian teams before. On his resume is head coach of Canada's under-18 team in 2000, which included players such as Stephen Weiss and Jordin Tootoo, and assistant coach of Canada's Lotto Cup team in 2003.

He's also applied to coach Canada's junior team.

"I still consider myself part of the national coaching group," Babey said. "Lately, Canada has gone to only Canadian Hockey League coaches and that's understandable in the sense that's where they get their players."

Babey is the athletic director at SAIT in addition to the school's hockey coach. It's a lifestyle that's allowed him to raise his three children in Calgary.

But he would like to be a head coach in the Western Hockey League and has been rejected by teams such as the Medicine Hat Tigers, Calgary Hitmen and Moose Jaw Warriors because of his lack of experience coaching junior hockey.

"I don't mean disrespect, but I think it's true because I've been told right to my face 'you've got good coaching credentials, you've had great success, but you know, we're going with this guy who was an assistant in Prince Albert,"' Babey said.

"That's what you're up against and it's a tight shop and I think these kinds of experiences will get me going and hopefully something will break some day."

Meanwhile, Babey has been trying to roughen the edges of the sleek, skilled Danes, most of whom don't have nearly as much game experience as the Canadians.

"The Canadian boys have more experience behind them at this age," Babey explained. "They play major junior, most of them, and are a little bit more what I call grizzled around the edges and a bit more intense about things.

"The Danish players are very skilled, fast and good puckhandlers because of their Swedish background, but they lack that little bit of a competitiveness and that's what I hope to help them with."

Denmark is headed to the relegation round regardless of the result against Canada. The Danes were pasted 10-1 by the Swedes, but kept the scores respectable in 5-2 and 4-3 losses to the Czechs and Slovaks respectively.

Forward Mikkel Boedker, who plays for the Ontario Hockey League's Kitchener Rangers, gives credit to Babey for helping Denmark win a 'B' world junior championship last season to get them to Pardubice.

"It's a little different because we go straight to the net and there's more shots," Boedker explained. "He knows what he wants to do and gets the best out of every guy on the team.

"I think he did a really good job getting us prepared for the games and teaching us a lot of new stuff we didn't know before. I think he told us that we could win."

But Boedker isn't sure how much having a Canadian coach will help them against Babey's home country Monday.

"He might know a bit more than the coaches we had before," he said. "He can tell us as much as he wants to, but when the game is on, we have to play our game and enjoy every minute of it. Hopefully we can stay tight and see what we can do against those Canadians."

The Danes are on the rise in international hockey as the country has participated in every men's world A championship since its first appearance in 2003, and finished 10th this year in Moscow.

Frans Nielson became the first player from Denmark in the NHL last season when he had a goal and an assist in 15 games for the Islanders.

The Danish junior team's star here is Lars Eller, who was drafted 13th overall by the St. Louis Blues in June.

"He's opened the eyes of a lot of people in the world about Danish hockey and that there's some good players there," Babey said. "There's a couple others here who are going to draw some interest. Hopefully from that, more attention will come to Denmark, which will create more opportunities."

So another challenge for Babey is keeping his players from getting distracted by more NHL scouts than they've ever seen in one place before.

"I've got to keep them playing a team game, yet there's 187 scouts out there," Babey said. "I think all the coaches here are facing that part of it.

"I'm trying to sell to them that team success will lead to individual success."

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