BY GEORGE SIPPLE, FREE PRESS SPORTS WRITER
July 15, 2005
Former Red Wings coach Scotty Bowman has called Mike Babcock "a passionate man."
Babcock's father, Mike Sr., said Thursday: "He was a good kid. He's a hell of a better man."
Former neighbors second those descriptions of Babcock, who will be introduced as the Wings' new coach today at Joe Louis Arena. Fox Sports Net will televise the news conference at 10 a.m.
Tim and Cynthia Hayden of West Chester, Ohio, lived next to Babcock and his family when he coached the minor league Cincinnati Mighty Ducks in 2000-02.
Tim Hayden said Babcock was "the neighborhood dad." When the minor league club wasn't playing, Babcock spent time with the neighborhood kids, instructing them in hockey, football or other sports.
"Mike ran a very competitive game," Tim Hayden said. "The passion in this man is evident in everything he does.
"He's competitive. He's passionate. He's just a good guy."
Babcock kept in touch with the Haydens after he became the Anaheim Mighty Ducks' coach in 2002. He also came to their aid after they learned their son Jeffrey was diagnosed with a brain tumor.
After Jeffrey died last September, Babcock delivered the eulogy and joined the couple in their efforts to increase awareness of pediatric brain tumors through a Web site, www.jthf.org
"He's been a great friend of our family," Tim Hayden said. "He gave a wonderful eulogy that people still talk about today."
Jeffrey wasn't the first person in Babcock's life to die of cancer. Babcock lost his mother, Gail, to the disease. Babcock grew up in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, where his father still lives.
"Mike and his mom were extremely good friends," Mike Sr. said. "When she died, I would say that was the biggest loss of his life."
Tim Hayden agreed.
"His mother is never far from his mind," he said. "His kids didn't get a chance to know his mother. That's a thing that bothers him. He's just surrounded by people that have been affected by cancer."
Ken Brett, a brother of Babcock's agent, Bobby Brett, died of brain cancer. Babcock is also a friend of former NFL quarterback Mark Rypien, who lost his son Andrew to brain cancer.
Hayden said Babcock has greatly helped the Jeffrey Thomas Hayden Foundation since it began 10 months ago. Hayden sometimes marvels at the level of Babcock's involvement.
"There were some kids in California that were going through some bad times," Hayden said. "Mike gives the parents his cell phone and says, 'Tell the kids to call when they're feeling down.' And Mike ends up calling and asking how they're doing."
Hayden said he cautioned Babcock about giving out his number so freely.
"He goes, 'If I can talk to someone on the phone for five minutes and make their day, I'll do it,' " Hayden said.
With Babcock moving closer to Cincinnati, the Haydens are enthusiastic about the news.
"He's not afraid to be in Hockeytown," Tim Hayden said. "I think he's going to like it a lot better than Hollywood. Detroit's a hockey town, and he's a hockey guy. The guy breathes hockey. I hope the people take to him."
During the NHL lockout, Babcock used the time off to help bring more awareness to the foundation, which has two goals: Provide parents with a place to share information about their experiences, and provide a secure site to share medical information with families who can't travel a great distance to get a second opinion.
Babcock, 42, met with several cancer organizations and got the NHL involved.
"I'm not surprised," Hayden said. "That's Mike.
"It's his thing. What he dedicates his free time to, this is it."