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with two days of games
under our belts, the reality of hockey’s return is settling in nicely. Having viewed more hockey than I care to admit (and yet less than I could have) there are a few thoughts about the restart. But first, Mike Babcock is returning to coaching, albeit pro bono.
The University of Vermont
will be benefitting from Mike Babcock’s cranial cognition, and at a far better deal that Toronto is paying NOT to have him behind the bench. The former NHL coach is committing his time and talents to be a resource for the coaching staff for free. Head coach Todd Woodcroft has worked with Babcock in the past, and no doubt former NHL defenseman Mark Stuart is more than familiar with the coach’s work.
For all of the “trouble” that Babcock is attached to, he is truly a great hockey mind. His approach to the physical and mental combination for players and coaches alike is the result of hard study and application. A bizarre instance, Babcock did some lengthy research on the physical effects race car drivers go through during long events. Their body heat in relation to their reaction time, etc. he used some of those findings to get more out of his days. Babcock realized (what most of us find out the hard way) that eating the “wrong” lunch can derail your day. And so, he would do something very light and go for a jog. He felt it gave him more time to be productive throughout the day. All things being even, you could never accuse him of being lazy.
Babcock’s departure from Toronto was praised by many, looking forward to Keefe’s system and how it would liberate the players. Many months later, Keefe is preaching team defense in camp and asking players to be more accountable. Not all of Babcock’s approach was “bad”. In the end, he and Dubas had different ideas on the best path to success. Only time will tell if his departure was an aid or a hinderance.
I’m not a huge fan of Babcock’s personal style, but I admire how hard he works to incorporate new philosophies balanced with proven techniques. He did, at times, appear to let his personal likes or dislikes affect personnel usage (or lack thereof). That’s my opinion at least. It’s an insanely stressful task to lead an NHL team and stick to any system or theory in this day and age. It takes guts to make a decision and go forward with it. I admire those who do. Our scrutiny isn’t falling on deaf ears, it hurts families, friends and eventually the target themselves. To get up and deal with it every day (regardless of how money is involved) is not for the thin skinned.
And so, the University of Vermont will get a rare opportunity to have a close up look at how NHL coaches think and feel the game. I wish more under employed NHLers would take the opportunity when it avails itself. Those moments will shape the game going forward and plant the seeds of reciprocation in its viewership.
And finally, the return to hockey. At first glance, even a cynic like myself was a bit misty eyed as players stood shoulder to shoulder in solidarity on the ice. Those brief moments are a soothing balm as we heal internally from lives being turned upside down. You could see coaches and players both visibly moved at the return to doing what they loved.
The results of the play, however, are a bit mixed for me personally. The “ambient crowd noise” and cheering being piped in had me a bit upside down. As many of you know, I suffer from chronic pain due to a closed head injury. I actually like watching hockey without fans. The white noise makes everything a bit difficult. (I will sometimes watch on mute with captioning on). It does make the game feel a little more normal though.
Another thought, Tampa Bay looks very, very good. When I was watching Toronto or Edmonton, it seemed that in their own end, they look out of sorts. The goalies made a big save (or someone missed the net) and they were back on their horses. In the O Zone, those teams are a nightmare. Get the puck behind them and they seem mortal. Tampa never (to me) looked uncomfortable. Any zone, any situation, they have players playing to their strength. All of that AND they got really good goal tending. That’s a team that can do a lot of damage.
Rangers vs Isles was classic Trotz. When NYI gets a lead, it is painful to play against them. The ice turns into mud. Calgary vs Edmonton had tons of great energy and dislike. Calgary is having a lot of trouble finishing. I felt that game was closer than the score indicated. Chicago looked far more prepared than St Louis and could be a tough matchup for EDM.
All in all, hockey is back and I’m grateful. Let me know how you’re enjoying and what you’re seeing. Catch you in the comments!