We've seen Mike Babcock behind the bench of the Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings. Focused. Goal-oriented. And therefore, why would anyone expect his celebration with the Stanley Cup to be any different?
|Together with his wife Maureen and their children Alexandra, Michael and Taylor, Mike Babcock poses for a beautiful family photo overlooking the water.
A leopard doesn't change its spots. As a defenceman, Mike Babcock was a fierce competitor. He played a season with the Saskatoon Blades of the Western Hockey League in 1980-81, joined the University of Saskatchewan Huskies in 1981-82 and followed with a monster season with the WHL's Kelowna Wings in 1982-83. Then, for four seasons while attending Montreal's McGill University, Babcock starred with the McGill Redmen. A season in England with the Whitley Warriors saw Mike collect 132 points in 36 games.
But inasmuch as Mike enjoyed playing, it was coaching that beckoned. When he returned from the U.K., Babcock took on coaching hockey at Red Deer College for three seasons, beginning with the 1988-89 campaign. Two seasons coaching the Moose Jaw Warriors were followed by a season with the University of Lethbridge Pronghorns, then six seasons with the Spokane Chiefs, including twice taking his WHL team to the final. By 2000-01, Babcock had been noticed by the Mighty Ducks organization, and was hired to coach Anaheim's American Hockey League affiliate in Cincinnati.
In 2002-03, Mike was elevated to the National Hockey League, debuting behind the bench with the team known then as the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim. In his first season, using that same focus and determination that had already identified his career, Babcock took the upstart Ducks to the Stanley Cup final, ultimately bowing to the New Jersey Devils in a bitterly-contested seven-game final.
Mike joined the Detroit Red Wings as head coach in 2005-06. Throughout his hockey life, he has had but one goal - to win the Stanley Cup. Defeat was regarded as nothing more than an impediment along the route he was taking to earn that Stanley Cup championship.
|Don't forget the sunscreen! Mike Babcock acts as the Stanley Cup's personal life jacket as the two catch some rays while cruising around on Emma Lake. (Mike Bolt/HHOF)
On June 4, 2008, Mike Babcock achieved his goal.
By becoming a Stanley Cup champion, you earn the right to celebrate with the trophy itself, and on July 17th and 18th, Mike took the Cup to Saskatoon.
Lord Stanley's legacy was leaving Dallas Drake and British Columbia and scheduled to arrive on the afternoon of Thursday, the 17th. But wanting to give back to a community that had supported him so well, Mike arranged for a private plane to fly the Cup from Castlegar to Saskatoon, so he'd have a little more time to give back to Saskatoon. "We would like to give back. That's so important. That's what the spirit of Saskatchewan is all about," said the coach.
Just after 9:00 that morning, Mike and Maureen Babcock met the plane at the Saskatoon airport and received the Stanley Cup.
There are two things indigenous to Canada hockey and Tim Hortons coffee, and Mike and Maureen merged the two by taking the Stanley Cup to a local Tim Hortons. The only things that could make the morning more Canadian would be if a Mountie carrying a beaver had held the door open for them!
As the Babcock entourage was leaving, they ran into former Red Wing (and Tim Horton's former teammate), Bob Baun, who was in town as part of a media blitz to espouse the benefits of hearing aids.
At 11:00 that morning, Mike took the Stanley Cup over to the River Landing Amphitheatre for a fundraiser to assist Children's Health and Hospital Foundation of Saskatchewan. While hundreds of fans waited to get a photo with the Stanley Cup and an autograph from the Red Wings coach, Mayor Don Atchison welcomed Babcock back to Saskatoon, and thanked him for sharing the Stanley Cup with Saskatoon. "I'm absolutely thrilled to be here today to share this opportunity with you," replied Mike. "It's a dream come true for me to come back here with the Stanley Cup!"
|The Stanley Cup is serenaded by the beautiful sounds of bagpiper Jeff Brown. (Mike Bolt/HHOF)
When Mike Babcock says an event is scheduled from 11:00 until 1:00, he means exactly that. The fundraiser didn't start at 11:15. It didn't even begin at 11:03. At 11:00 it began, and similarly, it ended promptly at 1:00.
With some time to breathe before the next event, Mike and Maureen took advantage of the time to slip into their favourite Dairy Queen. The gasps of excitement were evident everywhere as Mike carried the Stanley Cup past tables with Blizzards and Peanut Buster Parfaits.
Royal University Hospital was the next stop for the coach and the Cup. Located on the campus of the University of Saskatchewan, the hospital does wondrous things within its walls, and between 2:30 and 3:30, Babcock wanted to thank them for their efforts by bringing by the Stanley Cup.
From 4:00 until 5:00, the Stanley Cup visited the Sherbrooke Community Centre. Those at the long-term health facility were amazed to see the Stanley Cup up close and to meet the man responsible for bringing it to Saskatoon.
Mike and his sisters then spent some private time with the Stanley Cup, remembering those people who have been special to them through the years.
It was time to party, and in Saskatoon, that means a good, old-fashioned barn dance. Just outside the city limits sits the chicken farm of Reggie and Tracy Sloboshan, who graciously loaned use of their barn for the party. But this was no ordinary barn! Inside, was a full-blown rink that during the winter serves for ice hockey and in the summer, hosts ball hockey games. The barn features rinkboards, a scoreclock and there was even a Zamboni! For this occasion, the barn was decorated in Red Wing red and white.
Following the Stanley Cup win, but prior to arriving in Saskatoon, Mike had arranged for a special website: www.giveitupforthecup.com, and through the site, invited Saskatoon to the barn dance.
'You're our guest. There are no tickets to buy and no costs involved.
I will ask, however, that you consider joining our team in making a donation to the Children's Health and Hospital Foundation. Doesn't
matter if it's $1 or $100 - or if you're a free agent who just signed a
new contract -- even more!
According to Reggie Sloboshan, two hundred guests arrived for the party. "Two hundred and forty," blurts Babcock. Guests were treated to a hip of beef and roasted pig as part of a buffet dinner. Speeches were made and a band performed so attendees could kick up their heels.
We've been blessed - with family, friends and good fortune - and we'd like to give something back and help some kids in our hometown.
There's no obligation - just a sincere request for your support.'
Bill Peters arrived at the party with the Memorial Cup (intact), to give the party even more of a hockey aura. Peters is the head coach of the Canadian Hockey League champion Spokane Chiefs, but during Mike Babcock's tenure as head coach of the team, served as the assistant coach.
|With a little help from Coach Mike Babcock, a young hockey fan gives the Stanley Cup a lift. (Mike Bolt/HHOF)
Although the terrific party wound down around midnight, the night wasn't over. The Stanley Cup was placed by a raging bonfire and a handful of revelers sat around the Cup in a circle and listened as great stories were told about the Stanley Cup through the years.
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Friday morning (July 18) began with Mike taking the Cup over to Jubilee Ford for another opportunity to get a photo with the Cup and a signature from Detroit's bench boss. The signing lasted from 8:00 until 10:00, and just before its conclusion, with media looking on, Mike presented a sizeable cheque to the Children's Health and Hospital Foundation, representing monies raised through the barn dance and the Cup photograph opportunities.
With the formal celebrations concluded, the Babcocks took the opportunity to relax with the Stanley Cup for the remainder of the day. Mike and Maureen, along with children Alexandra, Michael and Taylor, made the three hour drive north to Emma Lake, where the family has summered for several years. It's a stunning retreat, one largely untouched by humankind, but very much the best-kept secret of the hockey community, as Calgary Flames' defenceman Robyn Regehr and Hall of Fame forward Bernie Federko also have cottages on the lake.
Mike enjoys being out on the water, something he does each morning at 6:30, and had always dreamed of taking the Stanley Cup out on the water with him. So he did! With the Stanley Cup securely strapped into a motorboat, Mike water-skied behind, all along the perimeter of the lake.
One evening three years ago, while visiting the family cottage on Emma Lake, Mike caught the faint sound of bagpipes wafting over the water from somewhere on the shore. It was eerily wonderful, and the coach vowed that, should he ever win the Stanley Cup, he'd find that piper and have him/her perform at the cottage during a Stanley Cup celebration.
Through the last few years, Babcock continued to hear the piper, but was never able to ascertain exactly where the music was coming from. Then, earlier this summer, Mike was driving the boat while his son, Mike Jr., was waterskiing when the faint sound of the piper was heard again. Knowing that this was his opportunity to find the bagpiper, Babcock geared the boat down to a halt, leaving his poor son to prematurely conclude his waterskiing run. The coach then followed the skirl of the pipe until he found the area from where it originated. Pulling his boat up onto the shore, Babcock then went cottage to cottage in search of the piper.
He found him (as if there was to be any doubt!). But he was gobsmacked to discover that the elusive piper was a teenaged boy, beautifully practicing his piping from the beautiful confines of his family's Emma Lake cottage.
The Red Wings coach invited 15-year-old Jeff Brown to join the Babcock family for the Stanley Cup celebration on Friday, July 18. While Jeff played his bagpipes, Mike orchestrated a parade of boats around Emma Lake, led by the Stanley Cup, and as the procession continued, more and more boats joined the flotilla. The floating party lasted an hour (and poor Jeff's lungs are stronger than ever!).
So many people put so much effort into Mike Babcock's days with the Stanley Cup. "I really want to thank Ken Juba, Betty Anne Heggie, Vaughn Wyant, of course, the Sloboshans, and my family."
Mike then spoke about his drive and his focus. "If you don't dream, you cap your potential," he said. "I've always been a big dreamer. For a kid from Saskatoon to get to do what I get to do is living proof that dreams can come true."
But focused as he is on hockey goals, there are other targets he finds even more important. "The measure of me, in my lifetime, isn't going to be how many games or how many Stanley Cups I win. It's going to be about the family I raise and the amount of integrity in my life. Those," he concluded, "those are Saskatchewan things!"
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On Tuesday, we'll tell you how Ken Holland, the Red Wings' general manager, spent his day with hockey's big prize right here at the Stanley Cup Journal.
Kevin Shea is the Editor of Publications and Online Features for the Hockey Hall of Fame.
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