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Homecoming: Mike Babcock hired as new coach for Huskie men’s hockey

Homecoming: Mike Babcock hired as new coach for Huskie men's hockey
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Babcock, who played for the Huskies in 1981-82, replaces the retired Dave Adolph.

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Mike Babcock is homeward bound.

The longtime NHL coach, who won a Stanley Cup with the Detroit Red Wings in 2008 and led Canada to Olympic gold medals in 2010 and 2014, will coach the University of Saskatchewan (U of S) Huskies men’s hockey team on what the school says is a “full-time volunteer basis for the next two seasons.”

Babcock’s goal is to work with Dave King and a hiring committee to find a new long-term head coach for the program.

“The bottom line for me is I’m the transfer coach. I’m the interim coach,” Babcock said Saturday via phone — but he stressed that he wants to win in the short term.

Babcock, who played for the Huskies in 1981-82, replaces the retired Dave Adolph. The latter will officially step down May 1, leaving as the winningest coach in the history of Canadian men’s university hockey.

“When they reached out and talked to me about it, we had a good laugh,” Babcock recalls. “I got off the phone and my whole family was around. We started talking about it. My wife said, ‘that’s interesting.’ Her mom and dad live in Lloyd; they’re 90 and 87, they’ve got a 65-year love affair going and we might get to be part of that a little bit.

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“Coming home, that was of interest.”

Babcock noted that he and his wife have siblings and other family in the area, and that he regularly returns to Saskatchewan in the summers.

There’s also this: He recently spent time as a volunteer adviser with the University of Vermont’s hockey program, and he enjoyed the experience. Before launching his NHL career, he coached at Red Deer College and the University of Lethbridge. Notably, Babcock replaced Adolph in Lethbridge when the latter was hired at the U of S in 1993. Babcock guided the Pronghorns to the national title in his only season there.

Babcock, hired to coach the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2015 for a record eight-year, $50 million contract, was fired in November of 2019.

He said he’s committed to coach the Huskies for at least one year, and possibly two, depending on how the transition to a new coach goes.

“Between the committee and Kinger (Dave King) and myself, we’ll bring on the coach we expect to be the next head coach for the Huskies and work with him, and in the meantime, do everything we can to win in the short term at the same time,” Babcock said.

King, a former Huskies coach who has also worked behind the bench in the NHL and internationally, was a selection-committee member. He coached Babcock with the 1981-82 Huskies.

“I have known Mike for more than 40 years and there is no coach in the game who has accomplished as much as he has,” King said in a statement. “There is no doubt that he is the right guy for the job and will have a tremendous impact on the success of the Huskie men’s hockey program.”

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Babcock plans to talk with Adolph in fairly short order about the Huskies’ roster and who’s coming back. From there, he’ll start reaching out to players.

“Obviously there’s a sequence of events when things like this happen,” Babcock said. “First, you’ve got to agree to a deal. Second, you’ve got to make the announcement. And third, you get on with (the hockey side). It’s an important process. Obviously, during a COVID year, there might be a lot of changes … or there might not be that many changes.

“Those are the things we’ve got to find out. I’ve already talked to the school about recruiting rules and regulations. I obviously have to get up to speed on that. The associate coach and the assistant coach we hire will be very helpful in that process as well, but it’s part of what comes next.”

Babcock has never seen Merlis Belsher Place, the Huskies’ new facility, up close, but he jokes that “they whacked me for a donation a while back, which is good. I haven’t been there, but I understand it’s absolutely spectacular.

“I can’t tell you how excited I am to come home,” he added. “The big thing for me is I’ve been blessed in my life beyond belief. Unbelievable wife, unbelievable kids, great family, lots of success in my career. You’ve got your mom and dad to thank for that, but you’ve also got the people of Saskatchewan to thank for that. This is an opportunity for me to give back, and I’m pumped to have that opportunity.”

kemitchell@postmedia.com

twitter.com/kmitchsp

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