TORONTO – Mike Babcock, head coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs, was overcome with emotion, Thursday, when called up to receive a Distinguished Leader Award at the launch of the first annual McGill Toronto Excellence Awards luncheon.
"This honour is obviously very, very special to me and I'm humbled to say the least," a choked-up Babcock told a sold-out crowd, which included about 10 of his former McGill teammates, who flew in from all across the continent to celebrate the occasion.
The event, held downtown at the One King West Hotel, was designed to highlight the success and contributions of alumni and friends in the Greater Toronto Area, the largest alumni community outside of Quebec for the Montreal-based university.
Other laureates handed out at the luncheon went to Marcel Desautels, LLD '07 (Friend of McGill in Toronto Award), Lawrence Bloomberg, MBA '65 (Impact Award), Kendra Alexia Hefti (BCL/LLB '16) and Lilia Koleva (BSc-Arch '09), both of whom received a Rising Star Award.
Babcock's honour, presented by Marc Weinstein, a vice-principal responsible for university advancement, is given to a McGill alumnus who has demonstrated exemplary leadership in their chosen field over a prolific career. The honoree is considered a trailblazer who serves as an inspiration and a mentor to the next generation of leaders, and who brings honour to McGill through their professional achievements.
Babcock, who was born in the northern Ontario mining town of Manitouwadge, and raised in Saskatoon, appeared to be caught off-guard after viewing a high-production video that featured brief congratulatory comments from a plethora of friends, teammates and colleagues, as well as Maple Leafs executives Brendan Shanahan (president), Larry Tanenbaum (chairman, Maple Leafs Sports & Entertainment) and Michael Friisdahl (president and chief executive officer of MLSE). It was capped off by an unexpected message from Babcock's wife Maureen, via iPhone from the family's Michigan-based residence.
LINK TO BABCOCK VIDEO
The mood quickly lightened up, however, after the 55-year-old physical education graduate (B.Ed. '86, LLD '13) composed himself and noted that he had been asked to address the crowd on the "topic of leadership but I don't really want to."
The former two-time all-star defenceman and captain with the McGill men's hockey team preferred to speak about the gift of a McGill education, the University's storied hockey program, the lifelong friends he made while skating for the Redmen and the impact that his family has had on his life.
Babcock didn't really need to speak about leadership as his coaching record speaks for itself. Not long after a Stanley Cup victory with Detroit in 2008, he guided Canada to gold medal victories at both the Vancouver (2010) and Sochi Olympics (2014). He recently added a World Cup of Hockey title (2016), which now gives him seven major championship rings as a coach, including a CIS national title won with the University of Lethbridge (1994), an IIHF world championship (2004) and an IIHF world junior title (1997).
Despite all of his success, ties to his McGill teammates and the University have remained strong and he returns annually to the campus to speak to students and alumni, participate in McGill Athletics events and reunions, and also to support McGill events in Toronto. He has even worn his lucky McGill tie behind the bench in big games, posting a 9-4 lifetime record with the distinctive neckwear, most notably during the Stanley Cup finals and in both of Canada's gold medal victories at the Olympics.
Throughout his career, Babcock has inspired his players, his community and his alma mater, not just through hockey but in many other ways including his support for mental health awareness. Two years ago, he also quietly made a substantial gift to McGill, establishing an athletic financial award in the form of an endowment to create scholarships for the hockey program. It is known as the "Boys from 9-10 Award", a reference to the two apartments on Durocher Street, across from the Currie gym, where he and his roommates lived during their university days.
by Earl Zukerman, McGill Athletics