Babcock savours the Cup

 

DETROIT - The morning of June 8, 1997, the day after the Detroit Red Wings had won the Stanley Cup for the first time since 1955, Wings coach Scotty Bowman and a special companion crossed the border to visit a friend in Windsor.

 
 
 
 
 

DETROIT - The morning of June 8, 1997, the day after the Detroit Red Wings had won the Stanley Cup for the first time since 1955, Wings coach Scotty Bowman and a special companion crossed the border to visit a friend in Windsor.

Bowman put Lord Stanley's mug in the car and brought to Jimmy Skinner's south Windsor home.

Skinner, who died last summer, had coached the 1954-55 Wings to that title. Ever a student of the history of the game, Bowman felt it only proper that he share the moment with the last man who'd made it possible.

"Jimmy, he was a good friend and a good guy to talk with, because he'd been here so long," Bowman said. "He was a lot of fun."

All through the Cup final series, an oversized photo of Skinner about to plant a kiss on the bowl of the fabled mug hung next to the hallway leading to the Red Wings dressing room at Joe Louis Arena.

Wednesday, another Wings coach got his first chance to mug with Stanley.

This was Mike Babcock's magical moment. And there to savour it with him was Bowman.

His predecessor. His confidant. His friend.

"It's a great feeling as a coach when you finally get there," said Bowman, who coached a record nine Cup final-winning teams, but went 0-12 in his first three Cup final series.

"The first Cup gives you a sense of relief, because you always wonder if you're going to win it.

"It's something you dream of, but at the same time, there's some great coaches that never win it."

Babcock was starting to wonder if he might be one of those fellows.

CHAMPIONSHIP ROOTS

He won a CIS title with the Lethbridge Pronghorns and led Canada to a world junior title, but Babcock lost a seven-game final series to New Jersey as Anaheim's bench boss in 2003.

When the Wings squandered their first chance to clinch the Cup with 34.1 seconds to play in Game 5, a guy who'd never won one was left to wonder whether the hockey gods were toying with him.

"Until you've won at the level you're at, they'll always be saying, 'Maybe he can't win the big one,'" Babcock said. "Once you've won the big one, you can and you just keep doing it. Scotty and I talked about this."

Bowman and Babcock discuss many things.

"I talk to Scotty lots," Babcock said. "We talk about his kids, we talk about what the weather's like in Florida (where Bowman winters), we talk about hockey, we talk about lots of stuff.

"He's good to have as a friend."

Bowman, considered the best bench manager in hockey history, lauds Babcock for his diligent approach to the game.

"He's very thorough," Bowman said. "He uses his staff well.

"I just think he touches all the bases all the time."

The mutual respect and the closeness that's developed between the two since Babcock was hired in 2005 extends far beyond their wealth of hockey knowledge.

When Bowman's son Stanley was diagnosed with bone-marrow cancer, Babcock, who helped establish a cancer foundation after a neighbour's son lost his life to the disease, stepped in to provide Bowman with knowledge and reassurance.

"When my son Stanley got sick about 16-17 months ago, we needed some other opinions and we were able to get a good friend of Mike's to help out and get second opinions," Bowman said.

"He's been very helpful.

"He's a very humble and charitable guy."

As of Wednesday, like Bowman, he's also part of a very select brotherhood.

Babcock is a Stanley Cup champion.

bduff@thestar.canwest.com

 
 
 
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