The University of Vermont hockey team has added a high profile, but controversial, former NHL head coach to its coaching staff.
Earlier this week, the team announced that Mike Babcock, a former Stanley Cup winning coach who coached for the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs, would be joining the team as an unpaid assistant coach.
The Maple Leafs fired Babcock last November after the team got off to a slow start, and shortly after his firing, former players accused him of verbal abuse. He is still being paid by the Maple Leafs under a reported $50 million eight-year contract he signed in 2015.
Babcock is the eighth-winningest coach in NHL history, and had worked with new Catamounts coach Todd Woodcroft in the past. Babcock won the Stanley Cup with the Red Wings in 2008, and also won two Olympic gold medals as the coach of Team Canada, winning gold in 2010 and 2014.
The university hired Woodcroft, a former assistant coach for the Winnipeg Jets, in April. He told VTDigger Friday that he felt fortunate that Babcock would be joining the staff.
“When you have the opportunity to have the resources available to your coaching staff of a man who has the pedigree that Mike Babcock brings to the table, this is one of the greatest in all of sports in what he’s done,” he said.
Former Red Wings player Johan Frazen said while Babcock was a great coach, he was “the worst person I have ever met,” according to the Detroit Free Press.
“He’s a bully who was attacking people,” Frazen said. “It could be a cleaner at the arena in Detroit or anybody. He would lay into people without any reason.”
Woodcroft said that he had only positive experiences with Babcock, including when they coached together with the Canadian national team in 2004, but said he would not dismiss the claims.
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“What I’m not going to do is downgrade anybody else’s experiences, because I didn’t experience it, I wasn’t there,” he said. “I would never want anybody to be treated in a way I wouldn’t want to be treated myself.”
Woodcroft said he was the person in charge, and any type of disrespectful behavior by anyone will not be tolerated.
“This will be a team going forward, as it has been in the past… that believes in treating people the right way,” he said.
Babcock will serve the team in a support role, Woodcroft said, and come to Burlington three or four times during the season to observe the team and weigh in on what he sees.
“He’s already watching film on our team, he’s already breaking down systems for us,” Woodcroft said. “He’s really being one of the best assistant coaches you could ask for, he’s doing things without being told.”
Woodcroft said he and Babcock have been longtime friends and said his own experience in professional hockey allows him to tap into the knowledge of other coaches.
“The current situation is Mike is getting paid by the Maple Leafs to be a coach, but he’s not coaching, so he’s available and doing work day in and day out,” Woodcroft said. “He’s doing it for pure volunteerism, and to help the next generation of coaches and the next generation of players.”
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