Canada's head coach Babcock directs his team during their men's team ice hockey practice at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics

In praise of Mike Babcock, who doesn’t want you to be confused


SOCHI, Russia — “Does anybody know who won the scoring race? Does anybody care? Does anybody know who won the gold medal?”

And with that, Mike Babcock stood up and exited the press conference, once again the head coach of the Olympic champs.

Sure, it would’ve been cooler if he’d dropped the mic before leaving, but it was still a pretty great exit, so far as exits from press conferences go.

The only performance more impressive might have been the one his Team Canada gave here in Sochi. Six games. Six wins. The first team to go undefeated at the Olympics since the 1984 Soviets in Sarajevo.

And while Canada, with all that great offensive talent on its roster, only scored 17 times, it only allowed three. All. Tournament. Long.

On top of that, in the two games that mattered most, against the toughest competition, Canada didn’t surrender a single goal. It was a 1-0 win over the United States in Friday’s semifinals, and a 3-0 suffocation of Sweden in Sunday’s final.

Just don’t tell Babcock he played a “defensive” system. Because he doesn’t like that.

“When you talk about great defense, sometimes we get confused,” he said. “Great defense means you play defense fast and you have the puck all the time. We’re always on offense.

“Don’t get confused. We out-chanced these teams big time; we didn’t score. We were a great offensive team. That’s how we coached. That’s what we expected. That’s what we got. We didn’t ask guys to back up.”

Team Canada executive director Steve Yzerman concurred.

“It wasn’t strictly playing defense,” he said. “We weren’t sitting in a shell. Part of our defense was being aggressive. Forechecking. Pressuring. Closing gaps. Not letting them get the red line, or get our blue line.”

You may recall a short time ago when Canada’s scoring ability was being called into question. Like after it only managed three goals versus minnow Norway. Or, after it escaped Finland with a 2-1 overtime win. Or, after another one-goal game versus Latvia in the quarterfinals, a 2-1 win that required a late tally from defenseman Shea Weber.

“No matter how hard people were on us that we weren’t scoring goals, we wanted to stick to our game and play hard defensively,” said Weber, crediting Babcock for maintaining the team’s belief in what it was doing.

“He just portrayed the message that’s it going to come. Defense wins championships. You’ve got to shut the other team’s top guys down and get timely scoring and you’re going to win.”

Meanwhile, forward Patrick Sharp praised Babcock for, not only a great game plan, but also infusing some timely good humor.

“He was one of the guys who was loose in the locker room, kept guys on their toes,” said Sharp.

Forward Jonathan Toews, who scored the game-winner versus Sweden, saw that too, and thought Babcock’s demeanor was an important contributor to the team’s success.

“I think that’s a big part of playing well is being loose and confident,” he said. “He wants that and I don’t think he ever overreacts to any situation. He’s always pretty calm on the bench. If you do something wrong, he lets you know right away, and he’s very detailed and to the point.”

Toews also lauded the coaching staff for getting buy-in from all the players, even the superstar offensive types who may have been prone to veering from the plan, if they weren’t convinced otherwise.

“As soon as we didn’t have possession (of the puck), we were working so hard to get it back,” he said. “We had some skilled, skilled forwards and d-men, but everyone was committed to playing a defensive game, and we created offense off it.”

Of course, according to forward Chris Kunitz, there wasn’t much choice but to obey the coaching staff’s rule. Not on a team as deep as Canada.

“They came here, gave you the information, expected you to understand it, and go on the ice and duplicate it,” he said. “And if you weren’t doing that, there was someone else going to be able to take your job.”

Now, let’s face it, Babcock had more great players to deploy than any coach at these Games, and he was more than willing to admit that.

“We had a good team,” he said, slightly understating the fact.

If Dan Bylsma and Zinetula Bilyaletdinov had the roster of Team Canada, maybe it would be one of them who made all the right moves, instead of all the wrong ones, apparently.

Still, coaching Canada has its own challenges. Gold as the only option. A cadre of stars, many of whom need to be used like role players, and need to accept that.

Two Olympics in a row now, Babcock has gotten the job done.

“It started in the summer when we went in there and we played ball hockey,” said Weber. “Everyone laughed at us. We went over systems.

“I think there might be a lot of teams that are going to try ball hockey now.”

PS – Phil Kessel won the scoring race.

The verdict is in: Dubinsky gets one game for cross-checking Crosby

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Brandon Dubinsky has been suspended one game for his cross-check to the back of Sidney Crosby‘s neck.

The incident took place during the second period of Friday’s game.

Crosby did head to the locker room after the play, but he was able to return.

When deciding on the number of games to give Dubinsky, here’s what the NHL took into account:

  1. Dubinsky delivered a clear cross-check.
  2. Dubinsky has been fined before, but never suspended.
  3. Crosby wasn’t seriously injured on the play.

“In this case, while Dubinsky’s cross-check isn’t overly violent or forceful, it is an intentional strike to an opponent’s head using his stick,” the NHL said in their explanation of the play. “This is not a case where the head contact was caused by a sudden movement by Crosby or by a stick riding up a player’s back or shoulders and making subsequent contact with the head.”

Click on the video at the top of the page to watch the NHL’s full explanation.

The Blue Jackets take on the Blues in St. Louis tonight.

Ready to Roll: Oilers activate Schultz from IR, send down Reinhart

Justin Schultz
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The Edmonton Oilers activated defenseman Justin Schultz off injured reserve and assigned Griffin Reinhart to the minors.

Schultz has missed the last 14 games because of a back injury, but he’ll suit up in Saturday’s game against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

The 25-year-old has one assist and a minus-6 rating in nine games in ’15-16.

Here’s his interview with Oilers TV from earlier today:

Reinhart was acquired in an off-season trade with the New York Islanders this summer.

The former fourth overall pick has no points and a minus-1 rating in 12 games with the Oilers.

The Leafs will be without Reimer on Saturday

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James Reimer (lower body) won’t be available to play in Saturday’s game against Washington.

Reimer was injured during a team practice earlier this week and although the injury didn’t appear to be serious, it will prevent him from suiting up in at least one game.

The Leafs originally thought that the 27-year-old would be good to go for this tilt, but head coach Mike Babcock said Reimer didn’t feel good enough to play.

Reimer’s emerged as the go-to-guy for the Maple Leafs this season and for good reason.

He has 7-3-4 record with a 2.07 goals-against-average and a .934 save percentage in 15 games.

Another reason the Leafs have been counting on him so much is because Jonathan Bernier‘s been awful.

Bernier will get another opportunity to prove himself on Saturday night, but he faces a stiff test against Alex Ovechkin and company.

The 27-year-old has an 0-7-1 record with a 3.17 goals-against-average and a .895 save percentage in ’15-16.

In a corresponding move, the Leafs sent defenseman Scott Harrington to the minors and recalled goalie Garret Sparks.

Sparks was Toronto’s seventh round pick in 2011.

The 22-year-old has an 8-2-1 record with the Toronto Marlies this season.

War of words continues between Rangers and Bruins on Saturday


The Rangers are getting ready for their second straight matinee game on Saturday, but head coach Alain Vigneault wasn’t done addressing yesterday’s loss to the Bruins.

After Friday’s game, Bruins coach Claude Julien wasn’t pleased with Henrik Lundqvist‘s “acting” that led to a goalie interference penalty being called on forward Brad Marchand (above) and he let everyone know it in his postgame press conference.

On Saturday, it was Alain Vigneault’s turn to lash out.

“Well, (the Rangers public relations staff) filled me in a little bit on what was said after the game,” Vigneault said via the New York Daily News. “I mean it’s a little disappointing. Obviously everybody saw the knee to the head. The comments on Hank were very inappropriate. The way Hank conducts himself, on the ice, away from the rink, off the ice, the example that he sets. Who would you rather have as a son, Henrik Lundqvist or Brad Marchand? For him to say things like that about Hank, totally wrong, and probably Claude is getting a little older and needs to check his eyesight.”

The Rangers will take on the Flyers at 1:30 p.m. ET on Saturday.