February 23, 2014 at 8:35 pm

Red Wings' Mike Babcock answers critics, brings Canada back-to-back titles

Head coach Mike Babcock of Canada applauds his team following its 3-0 victory during the men's ice hockey gold medal final Sunday. (Martin Rose / Getty Images)

Sochi, Russia — It is a long way from home, but somehow it felt like we were all in Joe Louis Arena instead of the Bolshoy Ice Dome, a couple long NFL passes from the Black Sea.

A “Swedish Five” from the Red Wings was up against the squad from Canada coached by Mike Babcock and managed by Steve Yzerman, who got advice from Ken Holland anytime he asked for it and, who knows, maybe even a few times when he did not.

But clearly, the greatness of the most accomplished American franchise of the Original Six was on display yet again.

For if you listen to the Canadians here, and likely a good number 5,500 miles away across the rivers from Michigan in places like Windsor and Sarnia and Sault Ste. Marie, you will hear the legends nurtured in Detroit by the Red Wings came to full bloom in Russia during the men’s gold medal contest.

For the first time in the Olympics in the era of NHL participation, Canada won a gold medal outside North America, defeating Sweden, 3-0. It is also the first back-to-back for Canada in 62 years, since Oslo in 1952.

And, man, they did it in Russia, where a lot of the old wars on ice have been fought by men wearing the red maple leaf.

They also are the first team to go unbeaten since the Soviet Union squad back in the “CCCP” days in 1984.

It is the second consecutive gold medal team put together by Yzerman with a big assist by Holland and some other Canadian hockey executives, and coached by the inestimable Babcock.

No one had done that since the old CCCP boys, in 1984 and 1988.

Across Canada, broadcasters and the ink-stained wretches who have followed this sport under microscopes since they were little boys and girls, in places like Flin Flon and Moose Jaw and Shawinigan Falls, are saying, this is likely THE GREATEST TEAM to skate for Canada in any international tournament.

What fact, beyond those already cited supports such a claim? They set an Olympic record for goals against, yielding three.

Three goals in six games is a half goal per game.

In a headline with shout, The National Post called them “The Golden Generation.”

And to think that if you listen to some of the adult men sitting around in their underwear in their basements in Metro Detroit who call into these radio talk shows during a season of discontent with the Red Wings evolving roster and flock of injuries, Babcock and Holland ought to be fired.

Ain’t that something?

Babcock is best

Folks, look, if there was any doubt, it got erased in Sochi. Michael Babcock Jr. is the reigning hockey coach of his generation.

Scotty Bowman had a lock on the last one, inarguably.

On Babcock’s claim to the title, now, you might get an argument. Certainly, the jury is out in the long run.

But right now? He is the finest hockey coach of this generation.

He came in as the only guy to have won a Stanley Cup, an Olympic Gold medal, a world championship and a national collegiate title in Canada. Well, add another Olympic gold and try to figure out when someone else will come along to match that resume.

Let me lay down this marker right now. If Mike and Marian Ilitch and son Chris, and Holland do not get Babcock inked to a new deal when his current agreement is done, it will be the worst thing that happened to the Red Wings since they hired that fellow from Cornell and we got the “Darkness with Harkness.”

I am not predicting doom for quite as long, but it could take years to repair the damage.

And Holland, who was absolutely beaming along the bench after the Canadians won, staked another claim to a place in the Hockey Hall of Fame after he retires to the lake up in British Columbia.

Yzerman looks like the holds the promise of approaching at least a good degree of the success he had as a player building franchises. He has a way to go, obviously, but in Canada, this much is certain: A lot of rabid hockey fans and probably a half dozen owners are scratching their heads trying to figure out why, with the Maple Leafs not having won a Stanley Cup since 1967 and no Canadian franchise doing it in 20 years, Yzerman is managing an American team, in Florida.

But let’s get back to the redhead with the full mane behind the bench.

Sure, he rides the guys pretty rough, sometimes. It is his way. And some of them, no doubt, wish the boss was a lot less intense.

But you should have heard some of the big players for Canada talking about stuff like that and Babcock, back at the beginning of the Games.

“I think you want someone like that,” Jonathan Toews said. “It’s a short tournament. When you’ve got to come together so quickly, you want someone with that kind of approach, whose going to take a strong hand.”

And big, high-scoring Rick Nash who has been waiting to win large in the NHL for years, now said, “He sees the game differently from everyone else.”

Follow the leader

On Sunday, there was more evidence of Babcock’s singular vision.

The whole hockey world was talking about how he had instilled defensive play into the Canadians superstars and all-stars, convincing guys like Sidney Crosby and Toews to give up all that offense to play a lot of defense in return for the gold.

Yzerman said it. Par Marts, coach of Sweden, said that is precisely what just happened to his guys.

When I asked Babcock how he did it, he said it was not about that, at all.

“We wanted to play well without the puck, but we wanted to score 10 each night,” he said. “That’s the way we played.

“For you to think we tried to play a defensive style, we didn’t do that.

“We went after it. We spent the whole time in the offensive zone, and by doing that we played good defense.”

This is a winter of discontent in the place trademarked Hockeytown. With Henrik Zetterberg down through at least the start of the playoffs with back surgery and Holland saying Pavel Datsyuk’s injury is going to require some rest here and there, who knows? The Red Wings might miss the playoffs.

But I think somehow Babcock gets it done.

And even if he does not, there is one thing I know and that you can tell the underwear guys to take to the bank: That hockey club in Detroit is in really good hands.

gregg.krupa@detroitnews.com
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