Any conversation about post-secondary hockey coaches in Canada begins and ends with Ken Babey.
Now the head coach of Canada’s National Sledge Team, Babey spent 27 years with the SAIT Trojans. He won 534 games, nine Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference (ACAC) championships, one national title and seven ACAC Coach of the Year awards, and set 16 ACAC career coaching records.
For a four-decade-long coaching career that has also included championships at the local and international levels, Babey is being inducted into the Alberta Hockey Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 2015.
“This game has given me pretty much everything I have in my life in terms of my career,” says Babey. “It hasn’t given me any bad days.”
Babey was born in and played his minor hockey in Saskatoon. He played junior hockey with the Saskatoon Quakers before a shoulder injury forced him to shut it down. While finishing his degree at the University of Saskatoon, he heard about a Bantam team in need of a coach. He was immediately hooked.
Later when he moved to Calgary he coached at the Bantam AAA and Midget AAA levels, winning a pair of championships.
From there he took an assistant coaching position with SAIT. When the school decided to hire its first full-time hockey coach, Babey threw his name in the ring. For his first 10 years he did double duty as teacher – in sports management and law, as well as physical education – and coach; over his last 17 years he was the athletic director as well as coach.
“It wasn’t like it is today where most post-secondary coaches are all full-time coaches and that’s all they do,” he says. “Back in those days coaches either taught or administrated, or did both, and coached on top of it all.”
Babey coached more than 700 players – including both of his sons – at SAIT. Most were student-athletes he recruited out of junior leagues in Western Canada. “Seeing them graduate and the great things they did in terms of developing into positive role models and good citizens has always been the number 1 memory for me.”
His first championship, in 1997, also makes his personal highlight reel. When Babey arrived in 1987, SAIT was near the bottom of the standings. Over the next decade Babey built the program up – but, he’s quick to point out, he didn’t do it alone.
“It comes from a team and people working in the background,” he says. That meant people going to watch games to help find players. Or people raising money to help build the team a dressing room.
SAIT players used to share a public dressing room with the rink’s night booking, usually a beer league or minor hockey game. Over 15 years people did everything from work bingos to volunteer their time as tutors to convert a rifle range into a first-class facility that would help recruit the next wave of players. “It’s all built on that kind of teamwork and everyone chipping in.”
The breaks in the post-secondary season allowed Babey to explore other coaching opportunities. He was a coach for Hockey Canada at selection camps for Canada’s National Men’s Team from 1990 to 1998. He travelled to Japan and Denmark when those federations came looking for coaches to help grow the game in their countries.
At the 2000 Four Nations Cup he led Canada’s National Men’s Summer Under-18 Team to gold; three years later he won gold as an assistant coach with the National Men’s Team at the Loto Cup.
“It’s the highlight of my coaching career to be honest,” Babey says about being able to coach for his country. And he’s honoured that he gets to do it again. In January, Babey was named head coach of Canada’s National Sledge Team.
“I really enjoy the change of the game,” he says. “It’s challenged me as a coach to think a little bit differently.” And he’s enjoying getting to know the athletes who play the game. “They’re highly skilled and tough as hell, and they’re really embracing some of the new ideas we’re throwing at them.”
On July 25 Babey will take a night away from the rink to be enshrined in the Alberta Hockey Hall of Fame.
He’ll join fellow 2015 inductees Al Hamilton, George Kallay, Lanny McDonald and the 1979-80 Red Deer Rustlers at the AHHF Awards Gala and Induction Ceremony in Canmore, Alta.
“I’m a little flabbergasted by it,” he says. “It’s an honour, and again I go back to teamwork and the award is just about all the people who worked with me along the way for our success.”