The retired defenseman talked about his 20 seasons as a pro player, including the coaches he liked and also disliked.
Most of his years in the NHL were spent playing for Vancouver Canucks, from 1991 to 1998.
The team’s 1994 run to the Stanley Cup Final was with Pat Quinn as head coach.
“Terrific guy,” Babych told the awards luncheon crowd. “I mean, this guy was a player’s coach, you know, probably the best overall coach I’ve seen in any sport. I’m sure there’s some that rival him but I don’t know of any.… It was amazing how prepared he was, and a very, very smart guy.”
Later with the Canucks, Babych played for Mike Keenan, who is definitely not his favourite coach of all-time.
“Wonderful guy — I’m kidding,” Babych said with a laugh. “He wasn’t a very nice person, first of all, that’s just the way it was. He coached through threatening players and so on, but technically he was the worst coach I’ve ever seen, even from minor hockey to the NHL, and how he got jobs I don’t know.”
Keenan enjoyed some success at every level of hockey, Babych noted, “but it was very short-term, so for leadership like that, nobody needs it. I think I’ve learned a lot from all my coaches and probably the most from him of what not to do, you know, if that makes sense, because you’ve got to weed out a few things and then you can define what the right path might be. But yeah, I could say more but I better not. I did not enjoy being coached by that fella.”
During his NHL career Babych played in Winnipeg, Hartford, Vancouver, Philadelphia and Los Angeles, and in 2000 ended his pro career in Switzerland with the Ambri-Piotta club.
The Canucks’ 1994 Cup run was a highlight with heartbreak, ultimately, in a loss to the Keenan-coached Rangers.
“Of course New York, you know, they they kind of broke our hearts,” Babych said. “We should have won that, we could have easily won it, but it was not to be. We went to Game 7, and lost, I think it was 3-2 the final game.
“It still stings,” he added. “I haven’t really watched any of that series just because I know the outcome, doesn’t change anything, I know. It’s funny, before the series they made us give a ring size just in case, you know, you win the championship. I’m thinking, ‘Oh, here we go, here we go, this could be good.’ Of course, it didn’t happen. We lost.”
Today, Babych is vice-president of the Canucks Alumni Association, the members of which play hockey at North Surrey Sport & Ice Complex.
“In the wintertime, we’re older but we still enjoy going out for skates with our teammates and people we’ve played with before,” said Babych, who lives in North Vancouver.
“It’s been great because we have our own dressing room, which we share with the Knights (Surrey’s junior team). Added to that is we’ve been connected with Wickfest, which is Hayley Wickenheiser’s hockey festival for young ladies, and there’s like 2,000 participants there.
“I participated in sledge hockey for the first time ever,” Babych added. “The building is set up to be able to handle these kind of games and where everyone is included, and it was a lot harder than I expected, not going to lie. I was a little sore the next day in different ways than normally playing hockey, but it was terrific. Like I said, we’re just so happy that we’re included within the city, because most of us are from different places.”
Video of Babych’s speech at the 2023 Surrey Arts & Business Awards is posted on Surrey Board of Trade’s Youtube channel, starting at the 23-minute mark.