Mike Babcock was destined for a job in hockey. Playing in the WHL and at McGill University in his playing days, Babcock learned about the game and what it takes to be a leader, playing in that role on both clubs. He translated that well when he headed behind the bench, as coach of Red Deer College from 1988-1991. During his tenure, he won a provincial championship, and the Coach-of-the-Year Award. After that, Babcock spent time in the WHL with Moose Jaw and Spokane, as well as the University of Lethbridge, during a nine-year period from 1991-2000.
Babcock finally got his shot at the pro ranks in 2000-2001, when he was named head coach of the Cincinnati Mighty Ducks. The team had a franchise record 41 wins that season, and qualified for the playoffs, as well as in the following year. The Mighty Ducks organization had seen enough success, and was named head coach of the Anaheim Mighty Ducks in 2002. He took Anaheim, a team that finished 13th in the Western Conference the season before, all the way to the Stanley Cup Final, where they lost to the New Jersey Devils. The unbelievable turnaround was much to Babcock’s credit. After losing captain Paul Kariya and seeing starting goaltender J.S. Giguiere’s numbers decline dramatically, the Mighty Ducks couldn’t work any Disney magic, and finished a distant 12th in the West.
The lockout caused a big disruption in Babcock’s career, and he did not return to California when play resumed in 2005-06. He instead opted to take his talents to Michican, with the Detroit Red Wings. He saw immediate success with the already-experienced Red Wings club, and posted a 28-18 playoff record in his first three seasons, with a Stanley Cup Championship coming in seven games against the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2007-08. This would be Babcock’s only cup. The following year, they made it back to the Finals, only to lose to the Penguins. Nevertheless, Babcock took home four straight Central Division titles in his first four years with Detroit. 2009-10 and 2010-11 saw the Red Wings lose to the San Jose Sharks in the Western Conference Semifinals twice, finishing second and third in the Central Division, respectively. 2011-12 saw the Central Division become far and away the strongest division in the league, and were ousted by division rivals Nashville in the first round after teams from the Central Division took up half of the playoff seeds in the West. 2013 was another tough year for the Wings, after losing great captain and hockey ambassador Nick Lindstrom to retirement. The aging Wings had to win their last four games of the regular season to make the playoffs, and they did so, entering as the seventh seed in the West. This would be the Red Wings 24th consecutive playoff appearance, and eighth under Babcock. The Wings got past the stellar Anaheim Ducks in the first round, and were up 3-1 before losing 4-3 to the Chicago Blackhawks.
Babcock has settled in nicely in Detroit, and will continue to use his great hockey knowledge to attempt to keep the Wings’ playoff streak alive. With a healthy group in front of him, the Red Wings can use their experience and be a dark horse in Cup contender conversations in the next few years.