Toronto Maple Leafs: The Secrets of Mike Babcock’s Success

June 23, 2017; Chicago, IL, USA; Timothy Liljegren reacts after being selected as the number seventeen overall pick to the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first round of the 2017 NHL Draft at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports
June 23, 2017; Chicago, IL, USA; Timothy Liljegren reacts after being selected as the number seventeen overall pick to the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first round of the 2017 NHL Draft at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports /

Toronto Maple Leafs Mike Babcock, more to being a coach than coaching.

The Toronto Maple Leafs selected Timothy Liljegren at #17 in the Entry Draft. After shaking the young man’s hand, Leafs head coach Mike Babcock made a beeline into the stands. While the focus for most observers was on Liljegren and his flowing dirty-blonde locks, his new coach was introducing himself to Liljegren’s family.

"Liljegren’s mother Lina and two older brothers, William, 25, and Anthony 22, made the trip to Chicago. The moment when Timothy Liljegren’s name was announced was as emotional for Lina as it was for her son.“I almost cried, I was so happy,” she said. “Since he was a little kid, I drove him to hockey, it’s all he wanted. I have three boys. I am alone with the boys. It has been so much work, but to see Timothy to grow up and be that good a hockey player, it’s unbelievable.”"

Babcock, a great communicator has often reiterated, the Leafs aren’t just drafting a player, they are welcoming a new family into the Maple Leafs fold. A schoolteacher, coach, and father figure, Babcock and the Leafs organization are intent on creating a safe environment for the players. Something which was missing for decades.  An environment which is demanding yet at the same time supportive. A family atmosphere filled with encouragement and accountability. An environment which pushes people to be better. That mindset begins with the Toronto Marlies and progresses through to the big team. A mindset in which Babcock has based his entire coaching career.

"President Brendan Shanahan, Lamoriello and head coach Mike Babcock live by the philosophy that finding the right type of player to fill a need for the team is just as important as filling the need itself."

"“The No. 1 thing as a coach (of young players) is that they’re not looking for a friend,” Babcock said. “They’re looking for someone to make them better, someone to love them, make them accountable and push them to be better. That’s what we’re trying to do here the best we possibly can. They’re going to need lots of support and we’re going to provide that.”Mike Babcock"

"Babcock has asked his son Michael 22, a forward for  Merrimack College in Massachusetts….. what his players are thinking. With a locker room full of players his own children’s ages, it becomes a challenge to remain coach first and foremost. Adam Proteau,"

Babcock, Life’s Philosophies

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The Leafs philosophy is similar to the environment in which I raised my own children and the balance Babcock brings to the rink each day bodes well for the players and teams future success.

"They (the kids) show up at the rink for breakfast on the morning after a road game because ‘they don’t have a wife at home, they don’t have a mom at home, so they come here, we have a nice meal and we go home.’ Mike Babcock,"

When asked about his 19-year-old phenom Auston Matthews, Babcock doesn’t mention his skill, his hockey sense or his four-goal record-setting first game. Instead, he speaks of character.

"He’s humble. He’s smart. He comes from great parents. When you see him the first time around his parents, you’re pumped because he’s got that much respect. Respect, to me, is something you learn. He’s that way with his teammates, he’s that way with his staff.Alec Brownscombe,"

Liljegren will Fit Perfectly

Liljegren, a humble and unassuming young man, will fit right in. He gives high praise to his mother for raising three sons by herself. When he speaks, there is a quiet confidence about him which reflects positively on himself, and his family relationships. After his parents separated, his father returned to the US leaving his mother to shoulder the parental responsibilities. As any hockey parent understands, raising a hockey player in a two parent household is difficult. With a one parent household, it is an absolutely daunting task.

When scouts suggested that Liljegren’s path to pro hockey would be helped by a move to a more competitive team, Lina packed up the family and moved 100 km away to Angelholm, where he could play for Rogle BK in a far superior hockey program.

Liljegren’s maturity shines through when asked if he foresees his career landing in North America next season. Having one year remaining on his contract with Rogel BK, Liljegren feels his responsibility is to honor his commitments. Playing an uninterrupted season in the SHL will further his development while preparing him for the rigors of the North American game.

David Carlson interviewed Liljegren five weeks before the draft. He spoke about his family, his season, and his hopes for the draft. He also discussed his big slide down the prospect rankings.

"It wasn’t quite the season I had hoped for, but I think it will turn out useful for me in the long run, Timothy Liljegren says over the phone. Mentally, I’ve just had to push through. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced this kind of setback before. We all have setbacks, but this has been the biggest one in my career. I still think I handled it well and kept calm in spite of what happened.It will be an awesome feeling to be there and to have my family beside me as well, says the young defenseman, who also has an American citizenship since his father’s side of the family is from the state of New Jersey. David Carlsson,"

The Leafs have the steal of the 2017 Entry Draft. A sickness, an injury, four teams later and a slide down the draft rankings. There is little doubt in my mind that Liljegren has the raw talent to become a force in the NHL.

Next: Draft Recap

It now becomes Babcock’s task to take that skill and mold this humble and respectful young man into a pro. A good pro and a good man. With Babcock’s experience and coaching talents, along with his life philosophies, I have no doubt that Liljegren will become a future cornerstone for the Leafs.