HALIFAX — New Toronto Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock’s practices are fast-paced and force players to think quickly as they would in a game.
“There’s not much standing around. It seems like everything’s pretty snappy,” says Peter Holland, who is entering his third season with the Leafs. “There’s not much time at the board. Usually he’s verbalizing what he wants us to do.”
Babcock is also quick with his whistle if players aren’t doing a drill correctly.
“When he’s stopping the drills short, it’s to make sure we’re in the right position and it’s to help us get better quicker,” Holland said. “That’s good at this point of the season, especially he wants to make sure we’re doing things right and hopefully it becomes second nature.”
The impromptu lessons happen to veterans and prospects alike as the new coach runs them through breakout drills designed to reduce the bungling that leads to turnovers and having to play too much defence.
“I think we’re past last year. This is a new year and I think you saw what was expected,” captain Dion Phaneuf said. “There was some real good work put in by everyone here at camp and I thought it was a great start for our whole team.”
Fans in Halifax gave the players a warm welcome and the players say they got a morale boost from that. They also went golfing and visited a navy frigate to do some team bonding.
Phaneuf said the first three days of camp were a crash course in the type of hockey Babcock is known for.
“There was lots of information, but we expected that. He’s a very detailed coach,” Phaneuf said. “You’ve got to be a sponge.”
Mitch Marner, the Leafs’ first-round pick this past summer, described Babcock’s practices as “crazy.”
“They’re explosive,” Marner said. “it’s a lot of fun to be out there when he’s coaching.”
On top of trying to hammer home the finer points on the ice, Babcock has given players homework by asking them to watch game tape of the Detroit Red Wings, the team he coached for 10 seasons, including four seasons of 50-plus wins and a Stanley Cup title in 2008.
“We’re going to play better and faster and we’ve got a lot of work to do,” Babcock said.
The team will split into two squads Monday for home-and-home exhibition games against Ottawa and play another game Tuesday in Montreal, but Babcock planned to make cuts Sunday night.
Defenceman Andrew Nielsen, a third-round pick by the Leafs this summer, said it was great to have the coach on the ice.
“Those little things that can be taught now and taught early are going to come in handy come January when they’re pushing for the playoffs,” Nielsen said.
The lanky defenceman, who is likely to return to the Lethbridge Hurricanes of the Western Hockey League, says he will hear Babcock’s booming voice playing in his head all year long.
“I was already kind of hearing him in my head this weekend,” he said. “I’m going to take everything I learned here and take it back to junior.”
Ryan Van Horne, The Canadian Press
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