Modano talks ‘unique experience’ of playing for Mike Babcock

Maple Leafs head coach Mike Babcock has the formula for how his club might be "less fun to watch," but will be able to stick around in the playoffs longer.

Mike Babcock’s coaching style isn’t for everyone. Mike Modano knows this better than most.

After 20 years spent in the Minnesota North Stars/Dallas Stars organization, the Hockey Hall of Famer signed with Babcock’s Detroit Red Wings back in 2010 at age 40 to take one more run at a second Stanley Cup championship.

Modano ended up retiring with 1,499 regular-season games played but would’ve hit the 1,500-game mark were it not for Babcock making him a healthy scratch for a late-season game against the Minnesota Wild in 2011.

That Modano/Babcock storyline was frequently brought up by hockey fans and pundits after Babcock’s decision last week to make respected veteran centre Jason Spezza a healthy scratch for the Toronto Maple Leafs home opener was met with widespread criticism.

“I felt for Jason,” Modano told Good Show on Sportsnet 590 The Fan Thursday. “I mean that’s just hard. As you get older you have scenarios that play out that maybe you thought shouldn’t play out at the time. …

“I enjoyed Mike at the beginning of the year and then I got injured and kind of out of the system and fought my way back. It was a tough pill to swallow to miss one of the last three games to get 1,500. It’s a bitter pill but for some reason, some way that was his decision and you gotta live with it the rest of your life.”

Modano, who described playing under Babcock as a “unique experience,” was asked if he thinks anyone can change Babcock’s mind once it’s made up.

“Uhh, I don’t think so. I don’t think so,” Modano said while laughing. “I think he has a certain way and once he thinks it through and has a decision he’ll take other people’s opinions but I think it’s just in the back of his mind he knows what he’s going to do and that’s the way it’s going to be. His track record has been pretty good, obviously. I mean, he has the credentials and everything to make those kinds of decisions. I think in the back of his mind he knows his decision and nothing’s going to deter him from the way he makes his mind up and that’s it.”

“At an early age I think guys can handle it. You go out there and play and it kind of rolls off your back,” added Modano, who compared Babcock’s style to how Ken Hitchcock ran the Stars teams of the mid-90s and early-2000s. “As you get older you’re like, ‘I’ve heard this song and dance, it’s a broken record, deal with me like a normal human.’”

Former Red Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg opened up to The Detroit News in 2018 about his relationship with Babcock.

“He found a way to push me into an ‘I’m going to show you’ kind of thing. Not everyone, I think, can handle it,” Zetterberg said. “He found a way to push the team in a way that we were always ready. But it took a lot from us, too, to always be ready.

“He put a lot into it, too. The preparation and how to approach the game was something that you see more now, in teams. My relationship with him has always been good. We butted heads a lot of times. I think he knew he could tell me whatever he wanted. And, I knew I could tell him whatever I wanted. And, somehow, it worked.”


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