When Detroit Red Wings coach Mike Babcock dropped by unexpectedly at the training rink of Canadian ice dancers Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, it was difficult to discern exactly who was there to help who.
Virtue and Moir befriended Babcock and Red Wings general manager Ken Holland at last year's Vancouver Olympics, and the two Canadian skaters live and train in Canton, Mich., just a half hour's drive from downtown Detroit.
Babcock showed up unannounced at a recent practice session — a sort of meeting of skating minds — ahead of the world figure skating championships, which opened Monday.
"He was drilling us, asking questions and asking for answers," Moir said. "It was interesting just to have that kind of back and forth with him."
The Stanley Cup champion coach wanted to know, among other things, how the two manage when one skater is having an off day.
"We talked a bit about how we bring each other up," said Moir, who captured Olympic gold with Virtue last year in Vancouver.
The Detroit Red Wings are through to the second round of the NHL playoffs after sweeping the Phoenix Coyotes in the opening round Wednesday night.
Virtue said she and Moir have kept in touch with their new Red Wings front-office friends since the Vancouver Games, and have been to several games in Detroit this season. Babcock was the head coach of the Canadian men's team that won gold in Vancouver.
"The Red Wings organization has been so kind to Scott and I," said Virtue, a native of London, Ont. "They're the nicest people. We're Wings fans."
To which Moir, a life-long Leafs fan, groaned.
"Well. . . ," said Moir. "We're Leafs fans. We're Mike and Ken fans."
Babcock's visit, the skaters said, was a big boost during a roller-coaster season for Canada's ice dance stars.
"We were riding a high that whole week," Virtue said.
"It was kind of embarrassing," added Moir, a native of Ilderton, Ont. "Because we were like: 'Mike Babcock!"'
The defending world champions are making what amounts to their season debut in Moscow after being sidelined since the fall when Virtue underwent surgery on her legs to alleviate pain caused by compartment syndrome. They competed at the Four Continents championships in February, but had to pull out during the free dance when Virtue felt tightness in her thigh.
Babcock was the quintessential coach at Virtue and Moir's Arctic Edge arena, watching the practice intently with Johnny Johns, one of the Canadian duo's coaches.
"Once a coach always a coach," Moir said of Babcock. "He was giving us pointers, he was pretty good, he could be a figure skating coach I think. It was all video work, and he was like: 'That one didn't look as good as that one."'
The only drawback to the visit: it came on the heels of a Red Wings' victory over Moir's beloved Leafs.
"It was a week after they beat the Leafs," Moir said, laughing. "I told him, 'Babs, what are you doing?"'