Babcock knows what it takes

"Experience is overrated unless you have it."

--Mike Babcock before coaching the Ducks in the 2003 Stanley Cup finals


PITTSBURGH -- Mike Babcock gained a wealth of experience while guiding the Ducks through a tense seven-game loss to New Jersey in the Cup finals five years ago.

"It's a grind. It goes forever. It just never seems to end," he said Thursday.

"What's so interesting about the playoffs is people talk about the playoffs are long. It's not for lots of teams. It's like one week and done. But when you're real fortunate and you've got a good team like Pittsburgh does or we do, it gets to go for a long period of time."

Babcock left the Ducks in 2005 after newly hired General Manager Brian Burke offered him only a one-year extension. Burke really wanted to install his own guy and Babcock wanted security, and each got his wish: Burke brought in Randy Carlyle and Babcock signed with the Red Wings, who had talent but lacked the gumption to go beyond the second round in two seasons under Dave Lewis.

Everything worked out fine for both sides. The Ducks won the Cup last spring and Babcock is two victories from lifting the chalice himself.

When that happens -- and it will, despite the Penguins' spirited effort Wednesday in cutting Detroit's series lead to 2-1 -- it will be because Babcock is using the knowledge he gained in 2003 to make himself a better coach.

That process hasn't been smooth. A first-round loss to Edmonton two years ago and a loss to the Ducks in the Western Conference finals last spring sparked speculation that he might lose his job if the Red Wings fell flat again.

They've soared because Babcock has fine-tuned his sense of when to prod and when to relent. That has made him the right fit for a team that's mature and needs a firm hand more than an iron fist.

"I think he's real good at knowing when to be a little looser on the group, knowing when to push us a little bit more at times," defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom said.

"I think he's got a good feel of the group that he has."

Babcock thought it would do no good to put players through a tough practice on Thursday because that might signify he was unduly worried about their 3-2 loss in Game 3.

And with the next game not until Saturday he gave the team a physical and mental break, all the while emphasizing that although Pittsburgh had played well, the game could have turned in the Red Wings' favor with one funny bounce or odd deflection.

"We won't talk very much about hockey," he said. "We'll get ready [Friday] and get ready to play again, and it should be a lot of fun."

The idea of a day off came from what he experienced in 2003. He learned the importance of "just staying fresh as a team and using today in a good manner and not wearing on your people. Understanding that you've got to get reenergized, and rest is a weapon and get prepared to play.

"And getting the lessons out of the game that you can. But there's no sense beating yourself up over it. We didn't win the game. It's a new day tomorrow. It's a new day today. It's sunny. Let's go."

That sounded a lot like the Babcock that Ducks forward Rob Niedermayer remembered from 2003.

Niedermayer, among the few remaining players from the Cup finals team, said Babcock was calm, assertive and never dishonest.

"He's a coach who always has his teams prepared going into a game. We always were aware of what the other team was doing and what we needed to do," Niedermayer said by phone.

"I really enjoyed playing for Mike. He was a guy that you knew where you stood with him. He put that out there loud and clear. He's one of my favorite coaches that I played for."

Niedermayer said that although he knows people on both sides, "Mike's a guy you hope does well."

Babcock has done well. Now, he's ready to do better. Two more wins, and he'll be there.


Helene Elliott can be reached at To read previous columns by Elliott, go to

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