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Babcock: Howe was passionate about sport he loved

Former Red Wings coach: 'This guy maximized his time on Earth to say the least and touched a ton of people'

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / Senior Writer

Mike Babcock was in his first season coaching the Detroit Red Wings in 2005-06 when a legend walked into his office after a game at Joe Louis Arena.

Gordie Howe didn't care for what he saw from a player on Detroit's bench during the game and wanted to let Babcock know about it.

"He sat down in my office and he said, 'I didn't like the way one of your guys was laughing on the bench,'" said Babcock, now coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs. "I said, 'Why don't you handle that?' He said, 'Don't worry, I already did.'

"I felt at the time it was going to be better coming from him, and he obviously did too. That's why he handled it. I'm sure he got someone's attention in a hurry."

Babcock recalled that story Friday, the day the Red Wings' family and the rest of the hockey world lost Mr. Hockey. Howe died Friday. He was 88.

Babcock coached the Red Wings for 10 seasons from 2005-15, winning the Stanley Cup in 2008. He got to know Howe long before that, when he was a boy growing up near Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. His friend's mother was Howe's sister.

"We've known who Gordie is since we were young," Babcock said.

But he learned to appreciate Howe's passion when he was coaching the Red Wings.

"He's a good, good man," Babcock said. "He had a love affair with his family, with his sons like no one else. This guy maximized his time on Earth to say the least and touched a ton of people."

That Includes Babcock's son, Michael, who recently completed his freshman season as a forward at Merrimack College in North Andover, Mass.

"The first time [Howe] ever met my son he shook his hand, elbowed him in the head and said, 'Try to keep your head on a swivel,'" Babcock said. "My son tweeted that out today, actually. I didn't even realize until I read his tweet. My son is 21, so he would have been 10 then.

"[Howe] was that kind of man. He just made people feel comfortable. He was great with the fans and appreciated them. Just a good, good man who loved to tell stories and had a tattoo like Mr. [Ted] Lindsay of the Red Wings on his butt, basically."

Tweet from @mike_babs: First time I met Gordie, he shook my hand and elbowed me in the head. "Always keep your head on a swivel," he said. Rest easy Mr. Howe. #9

Babcock said he learned a lot from Howe, but his greatest takeaway was his passion for the Red Wings and the game.

"When you're around Mr. Lindsay or when you're around Mr. Howe, you learn about the love of the game," Babcock said. "It's a special, special thing when you understand these guys aren't great because they're talent-driven, they're great because they're passion-driven. There's no way you can be the best in the world at what you're doing without passion, because you'd never work hard enough at it. That's what these guys have that the rest of us don't."

That time in his office 11 years ago was the first time Babcock saw Howe's passion and learned to appreciate it.

"The guy on the bench laughed or something when we were losing, and [Howe] just went in and said, 'That's not how a Red Wing handles himself,'" Babcock said. "I can't give you the details because I don't want to distort it, but it's just the idea, the way."

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