LARRY LAGE, AP Hockey Writer
DETROIT (AP) — Mike Babcock has an unprecedented trio of hockey titles, coaching teams to Stanley Cup, Olympic and world championship victories.
And still, Babcock relentlessly strives for more success because he says it is “fun” to accomplish anything that is hard to do.
The Detroit Red Wings and Team Canada coach has a gold medal he was given after the 2010 Olympics in his home office, but said he doesn’t spend a lot of time thinking about it.
“That’s all in the past,” Babcock said in a recent interview with The Associated Press in his office at Joe Louis Arena. “It’s all about the present.”
In the near future, Babcock will try to help the Canadians become the first team to earn consecutive gold medals and to win three overall since the NHL began letting its players participate in the 1998 Olympics.
“I don’t think about that much,” he insisted. “I think about the process of getting better every day. We had good selection process and we had a good camp.”
Babcock borrowed an idea from Michigan State basketball coach Tom Izzo when Sidney Crosby and Jonathan Toews were among 40-plus players who gathered for an orientation camp last summer in Calgary, Alberta.
Canada couldn’t put its best hockey players on ice because of the high cost of insurance, so Babcock put them through the paces with ball-hockey walkthroughs on a boarded-up international-sized rink.
“You can joke about it all day, and we kind of did,” Toews recalled. “But we still had some intensity as we practiced and went through the motions so we understood his system. That should help us when we get out there.”
The Canadians, like other teams with NHL players, will not have much time to practice in Russia before the games begin.
That’s why Babcock consulted Izzo about how he prepares with limited time during NCAA tournaments.
“Tom Izzo tells me that he believes he has had success getting to Final Fours because of walkthroughs in hotels,” Babcock said. “I’m a big believer that everyone learns differently. So, we did it on video, we did on paper and we did walkthroughs at the camp. So when we get to Sochi and we have a short period of time, players will know our structure.”
Toews said Babcock’s style is perfectly suited for Canada’s quest that begins Feb. 13 against Norway.
“He’s great for this type of tournament because of the way he teaches the game,” Toews said. “He’s clear, quick and to the point. He doesn’t waste any time. No one loses focus in his video meetings and everyone is 100-percent clear about what they’re supposed to do. For him to be able to do that with some of the most skilled players in the world and get them on the same page on a short-term basis, I think is pretty amazing.”
Babcock wrote a book, “Leave No Doubt: A Credo for Chasing Your Dreams,” that was published nearly two years ago in part about his experiences at the Vancouver Games.
He said the 2014 team won’t be able to follow the same script.
“Each opportunity is different, so the blueprint for success has to be different,” Babcock said. “We’ve spent a ton of time preparing and your preparation has to match the opportunity. Are there any guarantees? Absolutely not.
“We’re going to have good players, but the team that will end up being winning will not necessarily have the best players.”
Babcock turned a talented group of players into a cohesive team that won gold four years ago just as he did with the 2008 Red Wings and at the 2004 world championship.
Even though all hockey fans remember Canada won gold on home ice in 2010, not everyone remembers the struggles Sid the Kid and Co. had along the way.
“We had to beat the Swiss in a shootout,” Babcock recalled. “We had to beat the U.S. in overtime. We got a big-time save by Roberto Luongo against the Slovaks.
“You’ve got to line up the moon and stars to win and that’s why it’s so much fun because it’s so hard to do.”
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