Detroit Red Wings coach Mike Babcock a stomach-churning anti-American? That’s a good one, and one perfectly timed to coincide with the Wings invading the hostile confines of the United Center up 2-0 in the Western Conference finals against the Chicago Blackhawks.
Shockingly – and here shock is used like Captain Renault was shocked in “Casablanca” when he was told gambling took place at Rick’s Cafe Americain – NHL veteran forward Jeremy Roenick had lots to say Thursday in an interview with Mike North and Dan Jiggetts on Comcast Sportsnet’s “The Monsters in the Morning.”
Roenick’s chief commentary centered on Wings defenseman Chris Chelios, a long-time Team USA buddy and a Blackhawks teammate in the early 1990s.
Chelios, a Chicago native, won’t play tonight, won’t play again in the playoffs barring injuries. This is because he’s 47 and the Wings have other defensemen whom Babcock sees as being a better fit in the lineup (the Wings are 10-3 overall in the 2009 playoffs, 2-2 with Chelios in the lineup).
That’s the reality, anyway.
This is Roenick: “The coach just doesn’t like him for some ungodly known reason. I think he’s got a grudge against American players, but he does not like Cheli at all. If you’d know some of the things that Babcock says to Chris Chelios, it would make your stomach churn – just total disrespect for not even just one of the best Americans, but one of the best defensemen to ever play the game. The way he is talked to is just unacceptable. I wish I could elaborate, but that’s not proper. It’s just disrespectful … Cheli will never complain. He is the ultimate professional.”
Chelios laughed when told of Roenick’s comments.
“I don’t know what JR is talking about,” Chelios said. “Mike North, he and JR are buddies … anything to dig up something against the Red Wings. I don’t know anything about it. I’ll call JR and ask him what he said, but he probably won’t even remember. I talked to him like two weeks ago, but it was about a charity pool thing he was having this summer in Vegas. We didn’t even talk about hockey – nothing about our team.”
Babcock, a Canadian who coached the Spokane Chiefs for six seasons, and whose two youngest kids were born in the U.S., said he barely knows Roenick.
“I think my relationship with Cheli is a good one,” Babcock said. “It’s based on, I think, respect. I’m a huge fan of Cheli’s, so I don’t know what else to say. I think (Roenick) must have some time off, does he?”
Roenick does, as his Presidents’ Trophy-winning Sharks lost in Round 1. Meanwhile, the Wings are six wins from repeating as Stanley Cup champions, doing so with American defensemen Brian Rafalski and Brett Lebda.
“Oh, Jeremy,” Lebda said. “He likes to stir the pot and be controversial. Babs gave me my shot – he’s a big reason I’m in the league right now.”
Yes, of course, Chelios wants to play, but as Rafalski pointed out, “there’s always tensions on teams as far as, ‘Oh, I should be playing more,’ but that’s the coach’s job – to put the players out there that he thinks are going to get the job done the best. It’s not personal.”
Ultimately what matters to the Wings is that they win in the playoffs – and that’s what they’ve done under Babcock.
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