Krupa: Babcock, Howard vow to fight through adversity

Gregg Krupa
The Detroit News
Ottawa right wing Mark Stone is pushed away from Detroit goalie Petr Mrazek in the second period.

Detroit — Jimmy Howard heard he would not start against the Senators on Tuesday in one of the biggest games this season while he was feeding his baby son, Henry.

Mike Babcock made the decision to start the struggling Petr Mrazek, amid days when, as usual, he spent long, long hours watching games, deconstructing video, huddling with assistants and scouts, preparing the Red Wings to play. And all the while mourning his father, Michael Sr., who died Saturday after a long illness.

Adversity. How we handle it makes us who we are.

In life, it can create compassion and courage; in careers, success.

In sport, it can create champions.

It grinds some to a halt and helps lift others to conquering heights.

After the morning skate, eight hours before the drop of the puck, Howard and Babcock made clear they intend to persist.

For Howard, it meant doing extra work after the morning skate to improve his game and grappling with questions about the unsettled Red Wings situation in net while trying to nail down a playoff spot and just two weeks from the start of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

For Babcock, it meant coaching the team as his family mourned and prepared for the funeral today in Canada.

'A new challenge'

As a larger-than-normal media scrum from Ontario, Michigan and national outlets crowded around them, microphones and recorders pointed, both men explained about reacting to adversity.

"Everything's a challenge," Howard said. "Every time you meet something, you go through something like this, it's a new challenge. There's a new aspect to it.

"And you learn something about yourself, and you learn something about the situation.

"Even at age 31, now, I come to the rink ready to learn something new, every day. So it's no different than learning something about yourself.

"It's just a minor roadblock.

"The only thing I can control is myself, and that's coming in here and putting in the hard work and having a positive attitude and supporting the guys."

Amid failure is the seed of success.

Howard thinks he has spotted it. But his explanation, following the puck, is so simple it doesn't help the uninitiated.

He tried a baseball metaphor. When a batter walks to the plate, he looks out to the mound and, more often than not, the eyes come to rest on the pitcher's hand.

Keeping your eye on the ball requires that intensity.

The seed is getting that back into his game.

"It's not mental, like confidence-wise or anything like that," Howard said. "It's keeping your eye on the puck out there, at all times, and not losing sight of it."

And, yes, he knows what time of year it is.

"It's one of those things, now, it's the time when you just have to deliver. In those two games (Coyotes, March 24 and Sharks, March 26), I didn't," he said.

"But when my number's called again, I will be out there. I will play, and I will be good."

'Do your job'

Performing poorly in goal is remarkably unlike the death of a father. But the keeping busy part of the remedy is the same, whether struggling in the net or mourning a loved one.

"In my family, you're expected to do your job," Babcock said. "There's expectations every day.

"My dad would be expecting me to do this, and doing it to the best of my ability. That's how I was brought up."

So, there he was, skating the team in the morning and preparing them to beat Ottawa, before heading off to help give Michael Babcock Sr. a fine memorial.

"And I'm a guy of faith, anyway," said Babcock, a Sundays-in-church Roman Catholic. "And since I lost my mom, I prayed every day, and my mom's looked after my family great.

"I think he same thing's going to happen for Dad."

Babcock was absent from practice March 3 when he seized a spare moment in his schedule to fly out and see his father.

"It was good," he said. "I always make notes in my phone, and in my phone, it's right there: This is the last time I'll see dad.

"I talked to my dad every day. It's like I don't know what I'm going to do when I leave and jump in my truck, because I talked to my dad every day when I was leaving the morning skate.

"And so, I've got to find someone else to call."