Former Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Mike Babcock was back in the headlines this week when it was announced that he would be returning to coaching after a long hiatus. Although Babcock will not be taking up a role behind the bench in the National Hockey League, he will be coaching young men at the University of Saskatchewan, which just so happens to be in his home province.
Babcock's last job in the NHL of course ended under very controversial circumstances, with several players speaking out against their former head coach after he was fired by the Toronto Maple Leafs. Perhaps because he was back in the headlines this week, or perhaps because he will once again be in a position of power over young athletes, another fromer Babcock player has now decided to speak out much like other players had following his termination from the Leafs.
Although what we've heard in the past had come almost exclusively from players that were with Babcock during his time with the Red Wings, this latest story comes courtesy of former NHL forward Tony Martensson who played with Babcock earlier on in the coach's career. Martensson was briefly coached by Babcock while the head coach was behind the bench of the Anaheim Ducks, but according to him the same behaviors that Babcock would exhibit later on in his career had already begun during his time with the Ducks.
"It was about that I was from Sweden, that I was too small, that I was too weak," said Martensson in a Swedish language interview with Expressen. "He told me several times: 'You're way too small to play in the show'. I'm 1.83 centimeters tall, so I knew I wasn't too small. He also probably just thought I was too bad of a player, and he was not afraid to tell me and lots of other players just that. That was just his personality. It was his first or second year in the NHL, and from what I've seen after that it only got worse and worse."
According to Martensson however, Babcock was not satisfied with simply verbally abusing his players. He goes on to explain how Babcock made a deliberate attempt to humiliate him one day just prior to a game.
"One time during warm-up before a game against Colorado, and at that time one warm-up player did not get to play in the game, he pointed at me and said: 'You're not playing'. So I start to change, but then he asks: 'What the hell are you doing?'. I just replied that he told me I wasn't playing. Then I had to go and change in the shower instead. This was the kind of things he was doing."
Martensson has no trouble believing that Babcock's actions caused other players to break down and even admits that the same could have happened to him. Thankfully either due to his short stay with Babcock or due to his personal resilience, he says Babcock failed to break him down.
"There was zero respect. That was the jargon at the time, and I was a young guy who wasn't the best at speaking English. Of course it was tough. He could have broken me down, but he did not succeed."
Martensson would go on to say that Babcock made him feel like he did not matter as a player or a person, but unlike some of Babcock's other critics he also took the time to praise the coach for the positives he brought to the game as well. According to Martenson, Babcock could be an inspirational coach at times even though he feels he wasn't a good man.
"I must say though that Babcock's speeches before the matches were absolutely fantastic. He could make the team glow in his eyes. We had great practices and he was always well prepared. He wasn't a bad coach, but he was a bad person."