DETROIT - When asked about facing his good friend Paul MacLean, Red Wings coach Mike Babcock smiled.
“Did he tell you that (we’re friends)?” Babcock asked.
All kidding aside, the Red Wings boss was singing the praises of his former assistant, who will make his head-coaching debut Friday night at Joe Louis Arena.
For nine years, Babcock and MacLean worked together — first in Anaheim, then in Detroit. They built up a friendship based on mutual respect and that’s why Babcock believes MacLean was a can’t-miss choice.
“He went to three Stanley Cup finals with me and we won a ton of games here,” said Babcock. “He knows what winning is all about. He knows what expectations are. He knows how to handle a bench.
“He’s been the minor-league coach of the year in the St. Louis organization. One of the reasons I hired him in Anaheim is he was willing, as a former NHL player, to go to Quad Cities (UHL) and win a championship. No NHL player is going there.
“That just meant the guy wanted to coach. He’s going to do a really good job. He’s going to have a good relationship with (GM) Bryan Murray and I think that’s imperative as a coach. Your relationship with your general manager is so important. They’re a team in need of change. They want to get younger and better. He’s the right guy for the job. I’m going to wish him luck every night, except when he plays us.”
Babcock said one of MacLean’s strengths is communication with the players.
“I think with his pedigree as a player, scoring as many goals as he did, and the work ethic he developed as a coach, I think he’s set up for success,” said Babcock.
“The line I always like that Mac had was, ‘No one ever made me do it.’ He was talking about backchecking and the defensive side of the game and he really believes the coach’s job is to make them do it. I really believe the same thing.
“He’s going to be good. With the relationship he has with Bryan Murray, he’s going to have the backing of the GM. When you have the backing of the GM, your communication skills get better.”
Babcock spoke with Murray — who gave the Wings bench boss his first head coaching job in Anaheim — in the spring and gave MacLean a ringing endorsement.
“When a guy calls you and you have a relationship with him, you don’t just promote your own guy — you tell him the truth. And I told him what I knew about Mac and the job he had done for me. In the end, it was a decision (Murray) had to make. In the end, they’ve chosen a real good man, a real loyal man and I think he’s going to do a real good job for them.”