Sunday, May 18, 2003

Kariya lauds Babcock for Mighty Ducks' run

Anaheim earns its first berth in finals

The Associated Press

ANAHEIM - Mike Babcock learned his basic coaching skills at the family dinner table in Saskatoon, then in places like Red Deer, Lethbridge, Moose Jaw and Cincinnati.

The Mighty Ducks' rookie coach developed a talent for getting the best from players.

"You don't want the other guy to be better technically than you, but that part isn't the measure at all. You don't coach hockey, you coach people," said Babcock, who guided Anaheim to its best regular-season record and has taken the upstart Ducks to their first Stanley Cup finals. "It's all about dealing with people and having a relationship with them, making them realize they're important. At game time, you can be as demanding as you want, but by the next day, it's about making them better. They have to trust you. I think the basic of being a good hockey coach is being straightforward and letting people know where they stand. That's the measure."

It's working.

"Mike's great. He's a great communicator and a very honest person who tells it like it is," said captain Paul Kariya, who has played for six different coaches since arriving in Anaheim in 1994. "If you're playing poorly, he'll tell you, and if you're playing well, he'll give you credit."

As a youngster growing up in Saskatchewan, Babcock got his first lessons on dealing with people by observing his mother.

"I was learning to understand relationships. Those aren't things you learn from a book," he said. "Those are things you learn in life because of the people you are around."

His mother, Gail, died of cancer 13 years ago at 50. Her influence on Babcock is evident.

Asked if she had been a hockey fan, he said she "was a fan of her kids. She was an intelligent person who communicated well with people, and she was a great listener."

He seems to have a similar skill.

Kariya said the players have a great relationship with Babcock. "He is demanding, but I don't know of any coach who's had success that isn't."

His first head coaching job was at Red Deer College, where he spent three years and took the team to the Alberta College Championship in 1989 and was the conference coach of the year. He went on to coach at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta, where the team won a national championship in 1994 and he picked up another coach of the year award.

From there, he went to Moose Jaw of the WHL for two seasons, then to Spokane, Wash., where he coached the WHL team for six years and added two more coach-of-the-year awards to his resume. Before being named the Ducks' coach, he was at their AHL affiliate in Cincinnati, where he guided the team into the playoffs both his years there and to a franchise-high 41 wins and 95 points in 2000-01.

"Everything about coaching is the test of time," Babcock said.

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