Monday, December 2, 2013
Olympic extension a big help for Babcock
By Pierre LeBrun
OTTAWA, Ontario -- And just like that, we enter the final month of Olympic auditioning.
"All of a sudden it's December. I thought of that today; I was texting with the coaches, a bunch of stuff today, we were going back and forth," Detroit Red Wings coach (and Team Canada coach) Mike Babcock told ESPN.com Sunday before Detroit’s game against the Ottawa Senators.
"It's getting closer, but I really like the fact they moved the date."
It's ironic, really, that while Russia, Sweden, Finland and the Czech Republic pushed the IIHF last week to extend the Olympic roster announcement deadline, no country will likely benefit more than Canada, which has the deepest talent pool to choose from and the harder decisions that come with it.
So with the IIHF, NHL and NHLPA agreeing to push the date from Dec. 31 to Jan. 7, Team Canada has another week to evaluate some of the players battling for those final few spots. Team USA is sticking with its Jan. 1 announcement at the conclusion of the Winter Classic.
Mike Babcock has plenty to consider as he watches Team Canada hopefuls play against his Red Wings.
"What it does is that it gives the players more time to decide who is on the team," Babcock said. "To me, that’s what it's all about. We just watch them, but they decide [with their play]."
Hockey Canada has yet to officially decide its roster announcement date, but it seems crazy not to think the Canadians won’t take advantage of the extra week.
It's another week to see how Steven Stamkos is recovering from his broken leg. It's another week for the battles on left wing and left defense to play themselves out. All the while, Babcock is in constant communication with the rest of his coaching staff: Claude Julien, Ken Hitchcock, Lindy Ruff and Ralph Krueger.
"Lots of texting, we were talking about left-handed D today," said Babcock.
"And what we're talking about is, one coach says, 'I just saw him, he was good'; or, 'Just saw him, wasn't any good'; or, 'Going to see him this week.'"
Babcock had the coaches fill out their respective Team Canada rosters at about the 18-game mark in early to mid-November, to compare notes on their different picks, "and I've asked them to do it again by tomorrow [Monday]," Babcock said.
Just like his Team USA counterpart Dan Bylsma of Pittsburgh, Babcock benefits from the fact that Olympic hopefuls on the opposing team tend to bring out their best when playing the Red Wings.
"There's something wrong with you if you don't," Babcock said. "I mean, Tampa gets it, too [with GM Steve Yzerman]. It's a pretty good opportunity for a player. I thought the Smith kid for Phoenix was the first star both games we played them. Good idea. Why wouldn't you help yourself? To me, that's what it's all about."
Coyotes netminder Mike Smith stopped 59 of the 63 Detroit shots he faced in a pair of Phoenix wins this season over Babcock's Red Wings.
One thing that hasn’t changed since August is Babcock's desire for a lot of team speed on the larger international ice surface, but that's not the only key ingredient.
"We want skaters, the most we can possibly have," said Babcock. "We want high hockey IQ. But the most important thing is trust. No sense taking somebody you don't trust, because they're all going to be one-goal games, and in the end you have to defend.
"People think the big ice is about offense. No, it’s about defending. So you got to be able to play without the puck. Can you do that or can you not do that? To me, it's really simple. But the longer we get to watch, the better opportunity we have to make the right decision."