Mike Babcock might have his players to thank for achieving the most coaching victories in Detroit Red Wings history, but Wings fans should thank the bungled project known as Crossroads of America.
If the backers of this ambitious project could have secured the financing, Babcock’s reign behind the Detroit bench might never have happened.
Here’s how Babcock’s path to Detroit unfolded:
When the Wings ended their affiliation with the city of Glens Falls, N.Y., the home of their AHL club — the Adirondack Red Wings — back in 1999, they thought they had a deal in place to move the team to the Toledo suburb of Rossford.
Rossford was in the process of building a leisure-retail-business complex near the intersection of I-75 and the Ohio Turnpike called Crossroads of America.
Part of the complex was a new 12,000-seat ice arena, which was to be the new home of Detroit’s AHL franchise. But the project ran out of money and never came into being — even though construction began on an amphitheater, which stood partially built until it was finally demolished in 2008.
This left the Wings in a really tight spot. They had a team with no home, and the start of the AHL season was getting closer by the minute.
Detroit finally reached a three-year agreement with Anaheim to share their AHL franchise, the Cincinnati Mighty Ducks. Half the roster would be Red Wings prospects and half the roster would be Mighty Ducks prospects.
Anaheim ran the team, which was coached by Babcock.
Former Wings assistant GM Jim Nill made several trips throughout the season to check up on prospects and was impressed with Babcock as a coach. And Nill let it be known to Detroit’s hierarchy.
When Babcock was promoted to head coach of the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim in 2002, he led his seventh-seeded team to the Stanley Cup Finals.
The Ducks would lose the Cup in a seven-game series to the New Jersey Devils. But along the way, the Ducks swept the second-seeded and defending Stanley Cup Champion Red Wings in the first round, which cemented Babcock’s glowing reputation within the Wings organization.
Babcock turned down an offer to stay with the Ducks after the 2004-05 lockout, and the Wings jumped at the chance to hire him as their head coach.
Since his arrival in Detroit, Babcock has established himself as the NHL’s best coach and one of top hockey minds in the world.
His abrasive, no-nonsense approach sometimes rubs players the wrong way, but his results are second to none: A Stanley Cup, a gold medal in the World Championships, two Olympic gold medals, and the proven ability to transform any roster into winners.
So being Detroit’s franchise leader in total coaching victories isn’t really unexpected, but until an arena deal fell through, the Wings had never heard of Mike Babcock.
That’s certainly not the case anymore, and Detroit’s a better hockey team because of it.