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Babcock's style fits Canada's challenge

8/25/2009 - NHL

CALGARY, Alberta -- There are no easy jobs with this 2010 Canadian Olympic team. That is a given.

And, to be sure, executive director Steve Yzerman and the management team will have to answer for the 23 names they put to paper in late December if things go off the rails in Vancouver.

Yet the buck ultimately stops with coach Mike Babcock.

He's the one who will have to get the most out of those players, whoever they turn out to be.

If Canada wins gold, his reputation as one of the top hockey minds in the business will be cemented. He will, in fact, be golden.

But the flip side is, if Canada cannot erase the stain of its miserable seventh-place finish from four years ago at the Torino Olympics, Babcock's reputation likewise will be tarnished.

That's life under the big top that is Canadian hockey. Go big or go home.

But make no mistake, Babcock's big-as-life personality means things are going to be a lot different around this Canadian Olympic team than with predecessor Pat Quinn.

This edition will look dramatically different to associate coach Ken Hitchcock, who is like a Greek chorus when it comes to Canada's international highs and lows most of the past decade (he was an assistant to Quinn for Canada's 2002 gold-medal run and its 2006 collapse). This edition also will play a different style as Babcock will impose a method similar to what his Detroit Red Wings play.

It is not an easy system, Hitchcock said.

"The way we want to play, the game that we want to put out there, has got a lot of pressure in it, it's got a lot of skating in it and it's got a lot of focus in it," he said. "There's no resting on the ice with the way he wants to play."

The difference between the Canadian camp and last week's American counterpart is palpable. The moment Babcock stepped on the ice with the first group Monday evening, he was barking out orders, spurring his players to do drills properly.

"He's super A-type personality. He's a very focused, intense individual. He doesn't move on anywhere until it's done. It's just like the way he runs practice," Hitchcock said.
"If it's not done right, he doesn't care what the name is on the back, what your number is, where you're from, who you play for. He treats everybody the same. You've got to do the job. When he says you've got to play on 200 feet, you've got to play on 200 feet."

If Quinn was a big-picture guy, not worrying about every little detail, Babcock is the polar opposite, fretting over the details and believing the final picture will be made complete by doing so. If there is a sense of urgency, even at this orientation camp, it's because Babcock has instilled it in the group already.

As for all the other major hockey powerhouse teams, there is precious little time to prepare for the tournament itself.

"We're trying to get our team ready in four days, so when we hit the ice there on the 15th [of February] for our one practice and some of the guys will have just played back-to-back games, we're ready to go," Babcock said Tuesday. "We're going to have to be a work in progress even at the Olympics, and we're going to try and build a winner.

"That's what this camp is all about," he added. "We've asked the guys to pay attention to the details, the little things -- how you play on the forecheck, where your stick's supposed to be -- so that we understand what we're supposed to do and their skill level can come out."

St. Louis forward Andy McDonald, one of 46 players invited to the camp, played for Babcock in Anaheim and wasn't shocked at the practices' brisk tempo and attention to detail.

"He's an intense individual and he expects a lot, obviously in games, but even more so in practice," McDonald said. "And knowing what he expects going out at practice, it helps a little bit making sure you're ready and prepared."

Red Wings GM Ken Holland hired Babcock after the lockout and has watched as the former Canadian university hockey player has taken the Wings to two Stanley Cup finals and one Western Conference finals in four years. The Wings, of course, were Cup champs in 2008 and came within a game of making it two in a row this past spring.

Babcock is an accomplished tactician, but Holland told ESPN.com on Tuesday that it's the coach's personality that puts him in good stead for this Olympic team.

"The difference here obviously is, ultimately, there's going to be players here that are used to playing 16, 18, 20 minutes on their team," Holland said. "They're going to have to play eight and 10. Someone's going to have to play eight and 10 minutes."

It will be up to Babcock to ensure that those playing smaller roles are with the program, or things will unravel in a hurry.

"Obviously, to be able to walk into that locker room, a big part of being successful as a coach is a presence, and Mike's got a presence, and when Mike walks into a locker room, he's not in awe. He's going to take charge," Holland said. "It's easy to say, oh, you've got all these players. Well, there's probably a pretty good chance we're going to face some adversity, whether it's in-game adversity, whether a game is over, and your ability to adjust on the fly to the adversity is going to determine if you're going to have success or not.

"He's dealt with the media, he's dealt with in-game adjustments, he's had all that experience," Holland added. "You get into a game and you're down 2-1 in the second period and nothing's going, you've got to make some adjustments on the fly. You've got to try some different things. You've got to have the confidence to know when, how long to sit tight and when it is time to move."

Babcock said the message from the top on down with the Canadian Olympic team is that everyone is prepared to take on whatever role is asked of him.

"Steve [Yzerman] made a real good point. When he put together the management team, he brought on Ken Holland and Kevin Lowe and Doug Armstrong, all much more experienced general managers than himself," Babcock said. "When I'm coaching the team, you've got Jacques Lemaire, who has done way more than I ever have. You've got Ken Hitchcock and Lindy Ruff, so everybody from the management team to the coaching staff to the players are taking different roles.

"And the reason they're taking those roles and willing to accept that is that they want to be part of something like this. Let's be honest, it's worth it."

Scott Burnside covers the NHL for ESPN.com.