Former Detroit Red Wings coach Mike Babcock will get back to work this fall after more than eight months off as the University of Vermont announced Wednesday he will join its hockey program as a volunteer advisor.
Vermont’s head coach, Todd Woodcroft, lauded Babcock’s high-level hockey knowledge in Wednesday’s release announcing his coaching staff.
He was even more explicit in his praise on Thursday, calling Babcock “the equivalent of a Bill Belichick, the equivalent of a Phil Jackson” in an interview with the Burlington (Vermont) Free Press.
[ Woodcroft on Babcock: ‘Equivalent of a Bill Belichick’ ]
Babcock was fired by the Toronto Maple Leafs on Nov. 20 after a slow start in his fifth season behind the Leafs’ bench. Babcock is also the winningest coach in Wings history and won the Stanley Cup with the franchise in 2008. He was hired by the Maple Leafs before the 2015-16 season.
[ Albom: Babcock’s departure about money and time ]
Soon after his firing in Toronto, though, Babcock was hit with allegations of verbal abuse from former Red Wings players such as Chris Chelios, Darren McCarty and Johan Franzen, as well as Maple Leafs players.
Franzen, in particular, didn’t mince words about Babcock, calling him “a terrible person, the worst I ever met,” in an interview with Swedish newspaper Expressen.
“He’s a bully who was attacking people,” Franzen told the paper. “It could be a cleaner at the arena in Detroit or anybody. He would lay into people without any reason.”
Woodcroft addressed the allegations against Babock in his interview with the Burlington paper.
“When you’re a head coach in a market like Toronto, every single thing you do is viewed 24 hours a day. There are multiple channels on television and in radio that are dedicated to hockey and to the Leafs that are specific.
“So I’m in no position to say that I understand what happened in Toronto and I would never discount the experiences of any person. What I can tell you is that with my experiences with Mike have been the exact opposite. I’m the boss here, the buck stops with me and Mike is very cognizant of that, he’s aware of that fact that he’s here to help this coaching staff and his primary responsibility is to work with the coaching staff and to make us better coaches.”
Babcock coached Woodcroft, who was hired by Vermont in April, on Canada’s gold-medal squad at the 2004 World Juniors, a connection he noted in the school’s Wednesday release.
“Mike and I have been connected for over 15 years (winning a Gold Medal together in 2004) and our network goes back even further to our McGill University experience. He is a premier coach across any athletic platform and as a coaching staff we are very fortunate to be able to draw from his experiences. Mike’s knowledge, his network and above all else, the modern lens he uses to look at the game of hockey will help accelerate the progression of our entire program.”
The school, in its release, said Babcock would be “a resource for the coaching staff, lending his experience and perspective as one of the top hockey minds in the world.”
Woodcroft further explained on Thursday: “He is going to come in at different times during the season, spend time with the team and watch us. He wants to see the practices and make tweaks to our game.”
Presumably, that means Babcock won’t be behind the bench with Woodcroft and his assistants.
[ Red Wings’ Johan Franzen has had ‘really bad’ few months, wife says ]
Last year, Chelios, in a podcast interview, accused Babcock of berating Franzen on the bench during a 2012 playoff matchup against the Predators.
“It got to the point where poor Johan, no one really knowing he was suffering with the concussion thing and the depression thing, he just broke down and had nervous breakdown, not only on the bench but after the game in one of the rooms in Nashville.
“It was probably one of the worst things I’ve ever seen.”
Franzen, who is unofficially retired after missing all but two games since the end of the 2014-15 season with post-concussion syndrome, later confirmed the incident.
“I get the shivers when I think about i…