When Mike Babcock arrived at McGill in 1983, academics were not high on his list of priorities. Though choosing to study physical education, he attributes his decision to attend the school entirely to athletics, with his eyes set on hockey. As time passed, however, he grew to appreciate the opportunities for development that the McGill environment offered him.
“By the time I put a year in here, I knew I had to buy in and keep up,” Babcock said. “I became pretty interested in [academics], and it opened up a lot of doors for me in my life.”
Babcock describes his time as a defender on the Redmen hockey team as the most important thing in his life at the time, but since moving on to an illustrious career coaching at the highest level, his perspective has changed.
“I was a good college player,” Babcock said. “I was a puck-moving D-man. I had a lot of fun and enjoyed the process here. [But] when you coach in the National Hockey League, unless you’ve played in the National Hockey League, you didn’t play hockey. I don’t spend a whole lot of time talking about my hockey career. It’s more about my coaching career.”
Babcock, who currently sits at the helm of a young, energetic Toronto Maple Leafs squad, quickly learned that he’d have to work harder than others to earn respect in the league after entering without ever playing in the NHL. Between a World Cup victory, an Olympic gold medal, and a Stanley Cup championship, he’s certainly accomplished that task.
Despite jumping from job to job in hockey for the 30 years since his time at McGill, it’s clear that the school has left a lasting impression on him. Though the memories of his on-ice ‘capades have faded, the formative interactions he had with one specific role model remain fresh in his mind.
“My favourite thing [at McGill] was […] Professor [John] Chomay,” Babcock said. “I didn’t know what I wanted to do, and he was a champion of a man, and spent time with me. He made me important.”
(Selwynne Hawkins / The McGill Tribune)
In addition to the standout individuals he met along the way, Babcock stresses McGill’s role in instilling confidence—a key tenet of his mantra for success—within students.
“You have to earn confidence,” Babcock explained. “McGill is a platform to build confidence in yourself, so you feel good about yourself, academically, physically, emotionally, relationship-wise. And so to me, that’s the platform that sends you out into the world knowing that you can conquer whatever you put your mind to. To me, that’s what McGill is all about.”
Beyond the classroom, the personal connections Babcock made in Montreal are invaluable to him. When asked about his time at McGill, he constantly returns conversation to a friend group that he has maintained through nearly 30 years of high intensity and demand in hockey coaching.
With a fortunately-timed road game against the Montreal Canadiens scheduled for the day after, Babcock was able to attend the Oct. 13 homecoming hockey game, in which the McGill Redmen were defeated 3-2 by the Concordia Stingers. Though he never tires of hockey, he explained before the game that instead of closely spectating the game, he’d spend the majority of his time in conversation with old faces and in appreciation of his university days.
“I’m going to socialize more with the alumni guys that are here,” Babcock said. “I won’t be watching the game intently. I mean, I’m going to know who wins at the end, but I’m here because I went here. I’m here to support the program the best I possibly can and enjoy the time I’m here.”