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I caught up with the head coach of the Detroit Red Wings, Mike Babcock, Sept. 27 at the WFCU Centre in Windsor, Ont. where he was taking in an OHL game between the Windsor Spitfires and the Kitchener Rangers.
Babs told me right off the bat he wouldn’t comment on the lockout (not surprising given the fact Devellano just cost the team a quarter mill).
Here’s what he had to say on a variety of topics:
Rob Benneian: What brings you to Windsor?
Mike Babcock: Well, obviously the hockey. I mean, it’s well documented that we’re not coaching right now, so this is a good chance to watch Windsor and Kitchener, two well-coached teams. I had the chance to meet with both sets of coaches before the game tonight and talk hockey, which was nice. Spotter (Rangers head coach Steve Spott) and Boogie (Spitfires head coach Bob Boughner) are good men and established coaches in the league so that’s a positive thing. Plus Leachy (Mark Leach), one of our scouts, chatting with him, nothing major just doing something to fill the game.
RB: Do you get out to many junior games?
MB: Normally, I get to none unless it’s in Plymouth, that’s two minutes from my house. Other than that I don’t get to any. We’re busy doing what we do.
RB: With the lockout ongoing, do you plan on getting to more games this year?
MB: I’m like everybody else, I’m hopeful it won’t be ongoing and we’ll be back doing what we do. But if not, I saw three Plymouth Whalers practices this week, one for the USA under-18 development program, and I was in Sioux City, Iowa for the US junior hockey league’s fall classic.
RB: What can you tell me about Mike McKee?
MB: I saw Big Mike in the US junior league. Obviously he’s a big rugged guy, he’s a good kid, I’m a big fan. I think in the end he’s gonna be a left winger. Right now they’ve got him playing D.
RB: He’s the kind of guy who’s a break away from the Red Wings mold.
MB: We’re always looking for dimensional players. We’ve had a lot of good players over the years and we like to keep bringing in dimensional players.
RB: Can you tell me about Jake Paterson and what he offers?
MB: He’s a guy our organization is high on. What’s key for all goaltenders is he’s gotta keep developing. It’s a long way from junior hockey to be a good starter in the National Hockey League, but as long as he’s living the game and loving it and training it, he has a chance to be good at it one day.
RB: Is that the key for goaltenders is to be patient? You look at a guy like (Jimmy) Howard, and it took him four years in the American league just to make his imprint.
MB: He went to school, I don’t know how old Howie is now but it took him some time. I think that’s how it is for most goalies is it takes them some time. You look at most guys and unless you’re a star it takes you five to seven years just to get to the National Hockey League once you’re drafted. It’s a process. That’s why I talk about you gotta love it. You gotta live it, you gotta love it, you gotta eat it, you gotta train it. It’s just that simple, that’s the way it is if you wanna be a pro.
RB: Andreas Athanasiou, obviously the thing you fall in love with is the speed but what else can he offer?
MB: You know what, he’s a kid that I just saw at development camp so it’s not like I’m in the situation to make a huge comment but he has good speed for sure. He’s another guy who’s a work in progress, he’s got a lot of growth potential but he’s gonna have to keep evolving as a player and find a role and a dimension that he can play in. It’s gonna be junior hockey, then American hockey and then ideally one day it’s gonna be the National Hockey League.
RB: It’s obviously really early to say but do you see him fitting in more as a checker or a scorer?
MB: I don’t even think about that, because we’ve got lots of guys on the depth chart ahead of him. He’s playing junior hockey, we’ll continue to watch him.
RB: Last guy I want to ask you about is Marty Frk, your top pick from this draft.
MB: I don’t know much about him either except he’s obviously got good sense and a real good skill set. At development camp he looked to be a real good player, but he’s no different than anyone else. The draft is a day and it’s a day you get reinforced for what you’ve done thus far, but it’s the start of a journey. The number one ingredient once you’ve got a certain skill set is being competitive. I think being competitive is, competitive people compete in the weight room, they train right, they eat right, they live it. And if you live it you have a chance to be a great player. That’s the growth process.
RB: Last question, one of the more important off-seasons in Red Wings history, losing Lidstrom, losing Stuart. You’ve added some pieces, recently adding Colaiacovo, how do you like where this team is set up for this year and beyond?
MB: Well we’ve got real good depth up front. I don’t think we’re as good on the back end as we have been and obviously we’re going to have to play real well. In saying that, there’s opportunity. A guy like Smith comes to our organization, he’s been with us, we’ve never really given him much of a chance. He’s gotta be a key player for us and we’ll see what happens after that.