MacLean: Looking good on opening night of NHL season
'The one who makes you look is as good as gold'
Opening night in the NHL. We will all speculate about who should win the Stanley Cup, the scoring race, the Hart Trophy as most valuable player or the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year. Fun questions.
But let me tell about the only question in sport that matters: Who is going to make you look good?
As with gold, the true importance of that person, the one who makes you look good, lies in its possession, not its price.
When Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews was coming undone in Game 4 of last year's second-round playoff series versus the Detroit Red Wings, teammate Brent Seabrook came by the penalty box with a pep talk dedicated to helping him get back to looking good. In Game 5, with the Blackhawks down 3 games to 1, Brent was reunited with longtime defence partner Duncan Keith. In Game 7, Seabrook scored the overtime winner. By the time Chicago got to the Stanley Cup final, a rejuvenated Toews was now in command, taking the puck relentlessly to the net against the Boston Bruins' ferocious defence, hitting Zdeno Chara at every turn and refusing to lose his cool -- all the little things, which are big things, that Brent reminded Toews he must do.
At the end of the pre-season, Detroit was in Toronto with Mike Babcock preparing for his ninth season as Red Wings head coach. Mike's record with Detroit is 376-170-76. That's a 66.6 per cent winning percentage.
Mike was busy sorting out his roster. He had Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg together a fair bit during training camp, and Mike knew Pavel liked having Justin Abdelkader as a linemate. Justin's size makes room for Datsyuk and Abdelkader goes to the net a la Tomas Holmstrom. But at least at this stage of his career, Justin's scoring touch hasn't been compatible with the kind of ice time you'd give a man playing alongside Datsyuk. For the head coach, Babcock, Dan Cleary represents a solid option.
Mike will need to answer the "only question" concerning Datsyuk and the answer will have an impact on three players and the entire team.
'Leave No Doubt'
Mike Babcock has won everything: the college hockey championship, world juniors, world seniors, Olympic gold and the Stanley Cup. For every team he has ever coached, he crafted a slogan which would come to represent the ethos and identity of his new team.
For the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, he and a friend, an advertising executive named Rick Larsen, sat down at their summer cottages in Emma Lake, Sask., and wrote a credo along with a catch phrase he wanted to have installed in the Canadian men's team dressing room. Mike admits that midway into his career, he wondered if he needed to do these slogans, but be damned if he would chance going in without one. As Mike said, "Maybe they mean very little to most, but they may mean something significant to one person." And that could be the man who makes you look good.
So Mike wrote and wrote. In the end, he wrote about doubt being the one obstacle which can defeat us, so the slogan became "Leave No Doubt." Under that was a credo for chasing the dream, which built on Canada playing the games at home. Mike wrote that "the 14 days in February 2010 would be two weeks for the ages. That 33 million Canadians would attend every game. Home ice was an advantage .This is our game. This is our time. Let the world know we will leave no doubt."
I'm not sure whether Sidney Crosby read parts or all of Mike's message (which was slightly longer), but it wouldn't surprise me. Mike put Sidney with Jarome Iginla and Canada won.
'What about Sochi?'
So, Mike, what about Sochi?
Obviously, the theme will come out on Mike's terms, after his team has shared the story behind it, and the hopes contained within. But I can share some insight into how the new slogan was created.
Babcock and Rick Larsen decided to think about Russia and what it would be like this time. One of Mike's biggest concerns is the down time. In Vancouver, family was all around. They're usually the ones who make ya look good. But in the event you wanted your space, well, Vancouver was perfect. Nice place to go for a stroll, full of familiar languages, foods and even great weather.
Sochi will make the family aspect a bit challenging as not everyone can or will go that distance and down time won't be great if you're confined to the athletes village. Great players struggle to not think about the game. They're not afraid of injury, playing poorly or losing badly, but they live with a pre-game tension they can never shed. Escape is vital. In an athlete's village, the reminders of what this all means is great.
So then, Mike and Rick thought about their own kids -- five of them, 16 to 20 years of age, three at university -- and that's when they invited the kids in to help concoct a theme. The kids went away to university to represent their families. They left the nest. They came to a campus where the reminder of what's at stake is like walls closing in. They came to a dormitory, a stripped down environment versus home. Suddenly, they stood next to someone in the same position. Another young dreamer thinking this is our time and you beside me, you are now my family. I will need you to shelter me from doubts, from excesses, from pressure. I will need you to make me look good.
Looking ahead to the new season, I'm eager to watch Babcock. To see who he plays with Pavel in Detroit and who he matches against Datsyuk in Sochi. Maybe Mike will tell me the slogan when we gather at the Big House on New Year's Day in Ann Arbor, Mich.
It's going to be a great year. We're going back to school. Part of the fun will be sitting down to see if you can spot the person or your favourite who is like Mike Babcock. The one who makes you good. Whoever that is, is as good as gold.