Mike Babcock doesn’t officially get the nod as Olympic coach until Thursday but he already has Wayne Gretzky’s support.
The Detroit Red Wings coach is to be named coach on Thursday at a Hockey Canada news conference in Montreal, a source confirmed to The Canadian Press.
Gretzky likes the selection.
“Being in Detroit, such a great hockey city, he understands the scenario that they’re under,” Gretzky, speaking at a Samsung Olympic sponsorship event in Vancouver, said Tuesday of the players who will represent Canada at the 2010 Games.
“I don’t think the players who haven’t played an Olympic Games, till they see it, understand the microscope they will be under, fortunately they have guys like Jarome (Iginla), guys who have been through this before, and although those guys have been through this before I don’t think anyone is going to be able to understand the magnitude of how important this is to Canadians being that it is in Vancouver and in Canada.”
Iginla, who was at the same event, was also positive about the Babcock move.
“He’s been extremely successful through his career and also he’s coached as a front-runner,” Iginla said. “Detroit has four seasons of 50 wins-plus and Stanley Cup and everybody is chasing them down and I think that there’s some similarities with coaching Canada.
“Everyone is always trying to knock them off, everyone is always trying to knock the Red Wings off, same with Canada, everyone wants to beat them and is gunning for them so I think there is definitely some similarities there.”
Babcock, 46, has a career coaching record of 282-139-71 in the NHL with 58 post-season victories.
Babcock has lobbied for the head coaching job with the Canadian Olympic team for a while. Immediately after winning the Cup in Pittsburgh in 2008, Babcock went to Steve Yzerman and asked how to apply. Yzerman, who wasn’t yet officially in charge of Team Canada at that point, said they already assumed he wanted it.
Yzerman wouldn’t confirm Babcock’s hiring Tuesday.
“I really haven’t talked to anybody (in the media) about it,” Yzerman said on a conference call after he was named to the Hockey Hall of Fame. “We’ll announce the entire staff Thursday in Montreal.”
Canada won the gold medal in Salt Lake City in 2002 under Pat Quinn, but struggled in Turin four years later, losing to Russia in the quarter-finals. Quinn also coached that team.
Babcock brings some impressive international credentials to the job. He led Canada to gold at the 2004 world championships, going 7-1-1 and beating Sweden in the final. He also helped the Canadians win gold at the 1997 world junior championships.
Babcock’s 2010 team will likely be led by Pittsburgh Penguins superstar Sidney Crosby, who played a part in preventing him from winning consecutive Stanley Cups earlier this month.
Columbus Blue Jackets coach Ken Hitchcock is expected to be on Babcock’s staff.