Mike Babcock was six-years-old in 1969 when Mr. Hockey racked up 103 points for the Detroit Red Wings.
The Saskatoon native and Toronto Maple Leafs head coach reflected on the hockey legends legacy prior to getting behind the bench for Tuesday’s exhibition game at Sasktel Centre.
Before joining the Maple Leafs organization, Babcock spent 10 seasons in Detroit coaching the Red Wings where he developed a great relationship with Gordie Howe and his family.
Howe played 25 seasons for the Red Wings winning four Stanley Cups.
“I’ve followed Gordie forever,” Babcock said. “He was really great to my family and kids when I worked in Detroit. Mark Howe is a really good friend as well.”
The former Saskatoon Blade player and Moose Jaw Warrior coach said he was a special guy for the city.
“He was the greatest hockey player, but an even better man,” Babcock said.
Babcock said Gordie lived and breathed the Red Wings.
“He had a Red Wings tattoo on him and he wanted us to do things right,” he said. “When players didn’t do things right, he was more than happy to go in the room and look after it for you,” Babcock said.
It was a home coming of sorts for Toronto Maple Leafs forward Brooks Laich. Laich, who hails from Wawota, Sask. said Howe paved the way for so many young kids who dreamed of making it to the NHL.
Although Laich never met Howe, he’s heard so much from other players.
“He was so graceful off the ice even though he was known to be a bully on the ice,” he said. “He was a guy who could do it all and you don’t see those players anymore.”
Laich said it was a thrill to play a pro game in the province where he got his start in hockey.
“I’m so proud to be from here.”