Brawling Babcock an unlikely doctor

JIM CRESSMAN -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 12:06 PM ET

Some people suggested Jay Babcock had the hands of a surgeon, the way he handled bad-boy Steve Durbano in one of the wildest junior hockey brawls at the old London Gardens.

Little did the fans at that game on Jan. 29, 1971, realize that Babcock already had set his mind to becoming a doctor.

Almost 35 years after that melee between Babcock's London Knights and Durbano's Toronto Marlboros, Dr. Jay Babcock of Kingston is set to retire -- at 52 -- when most of his former teammates are still in the workforce.

"Not the way I played in London," Babcock said yesterday, breaking into a laugh when asked if people would believe what he's done in the medical profession.

Midway through the third period of that 1971 game, former Knights enforcer Dave Hutchison joined Babcock in the penalty box.

"Well, you put Hutch and me in the penalty box and I said to Hutch, 'Somebody's got to go and get that SOB (Durbano),' " Babcock recalled.

"Hutch says 'Babber, you're too small (five-foot-eight, 180 pounds).' I said 'You watch this!' "

Babcock came out of the penalty box and went straight for Durbano, who was standing in front of the Marlies net at the Zamboni entrance.

"I just wanted to prove a point to Hutchie that I could do better than him," Babcock said.

And he did OK.

I also happened to be on the ice that night, as a 20-year-old linesman in the old Ontario Hockey Association junior A league. I had the "pleasure" of trying to restrain Durbano after Babcock was finished cleaning his clock.

The fact Durbano wound up on his back inside the Toronto net, his skates hung up in the mesh, certainly helped Babcock.

Long story short, after Durbano was freed from his net prison -- later, in real life, he went to actual prison -- he spotted Babcock and the chase was on. That brought all players off both benches and a 20-minute brawl ensued. It ended with Gardens organist Scotty Allison playing O Canada.

Durbano got a 10-game suspension for manhandling that 20-year-old linesman.

"The fact he had his skates caught up in the net didn't hurt," said Babcock, who spent two years in the minors after two seasons with the Knights.

He had one year of studies at Western while with the Knights and, after retiring, came back and graduated. He then entered medical school at Queen's and has been a doctor for 26 years.

His interest in medicine began when his grandfather died the summer before his first season in London. "It was because of the way my grandfather was treated when he was admitted to hospital with a stroke. I thought I could do a better job."

He spent his first 15 years in the emergency room in Kingston, then opened a walk-in emergency clinic in nearby Trenton. He's selling that practice to spend more time with his wife and three children. "I really love emerg medicine, but the night shifts are too hard on family life."

Babcock only gets back to London for funerals ("I'm never invited to the reunions") and was in a local bar seven years ago with Hutchison.

"The people next to me were talking about the Durbano fight and they didn't even know me," Babcock said. "It's nice to be remembered."

But who'd have thought it that night, almost 35 years ago, at the Gardens? Jay Babcock, M.D.


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