Fortunately, those fans can always look forward to the IIHF World Championships in order to provide the intense passion brought by elimination hockey and fueled by national pride!
To make the deal even sweeter, this year’s championship is crucial for each participating country as each team’s final rank has a direct influence on their constitution of the pools for another, much more important World Championship – the 2014 Winter Olympics.
With the Olympics coming up so closely, CHO Featured Writer Christopher Nardi had the unique opportunity to sit down and talk with 2010 Canadian Olympic hockey team Head Coach Mike Babcock on his experience in Vancouver, and get an inside look at what goes on behind closed doors with an olympic team.
Christopher: First of all, what kind of preparation happens before the Olympics? How is the team put together and how long does it take?
Mike Babcock: You’re on 'tryouts' for a long time to be selected as the coach. So any way you’re looking at it, you’re trying out every day [during the season]. The Red Wings won the Stanley Cup in 2008, we lost in game seven in 2009. [Canadian General Manager] Steve Yzerman played for me, worked with me. When you get the job, now you put together your staff. The first thing we did was have a press conference, then a coach’s camp and a manager’s camp. We got together, and everyone thought we were just going to go golfing and drink wine, but all we did was work 24/7 to get organized for the player’s camp. We brought 46 players in and we laid out structure, and they worked. In the meantime, we’re evaluating all the people; the coaching staff is getting to know each other and learning from each other. By having a good summer camp, we set ourselves up to go to the Olympics and hit the ground running.
Steve Yzerman said something unbelievable at the summer camp. He said to the guys, “within the management team, Ken Holland has more experience than I have, Doug Armstrong has more experience than I have, Kevin Lowe has more experience than I have, and they’ve been willing to take the title of assistant. Ken Hitchcock has more experience than Mike Babcock, Lindy Ruff has more experience than Mike Babcock and Jacques Lemaire has more experience than Mike Babcock, and they’ve all been willing to take the title assistant. If you think your ego is getting in the way of anything going on here, you’re wrong. It’s cut off now.”
Living the games
CN: So what was life like during the actual games and the moments surrounding it?
MB: What was it like? When we got off the plane in Vancouver, it was the most exhilarating thing I’d ever seen. The Canadian people did an outstanding job, they showed off our country and how great it was. The excitement in the streets and the energy in the streets, the hype was surreal. And then you got to do your part, do your work, and I thought that 4:30 games was the best thing that happened to us. I was scared to death of those games because NHL games aren’t that early. But what actually happened was we’d play the 4:30 games, we’d go to Hockey Canada House after, you get together with your family, you’d go back to the hotel with them, and you’d come to practice the next day. What you did by being with your family was that you weren’t thinking about hockey. You can’t go there and always grind and crush yourself. I thought that was scheduled, and I thought it was the best thing to avoid pressure.
How was the atmosphere, having your families, your schedule?
We went to the Olympic games and Steve [Yzerman] even met with the families. He sent the powerful message that the families were part of the team. “Your husbands, sons, grandsons maybe aren’t going to play on the powerplay, on the PK, they might not win, but when they walk into the Canada hockey house after the game each night, you’re going to put a smile on their faces. You’re going to support them. It’s not about them, it’s about the team.”
When we lost to the USA, we went to the Hockey Canada House that night with the families all waiting, and I always joke that we won something that night. The people were unbelievable. It wasn’t at all like the world was crumbling around them.
Building for the future
CN: So with the 2014 Olympics soon in sight, how does one prepare a winning team like you did?
MB: It wasn’t an all-star team, it was a team. Winning at the Olympics isn’t about having the best skill. The best team wins at the Olympic games, not the best talent. So you have to become a team. And then if you build a foundation and work hard, under pressure you always go back to who you are. If your default mechanism is taking people one-on-one, that’s who you are. If you build a good foundation, you go back to who you are and deliver the goods.
There are a lot of coaches, players that do it one year and don’t work the next year. I’m not interested in that. That’s what I believe.