Of pucks and politics

Editor’s Notebook

Daniel McCabe

It is the most iconic sports trophy in all of North America. It’s a prize that boys skating on neighbourhood rinks across Canada daydream about with starry-eyed wonder. It’s an award that can make even the most battle-hardened hockey veteran choke up once he has earned the right to hoist it above his head.

It also makes for an absolutely smashing beer stein, according to Earl Zukerman, BA’80, McGill’s longtime sports information officer.

This summer, Zukerman had the opportunity to sip some suds directly from the Stanley Cup. “I’m not even a big beer fan normally, but it tasted great. It tasted special,” Zukerman told the Montreal Gazette.

Zukerman had his close encounter with the Cup courtesy of Mike Babcock, BEd’86, the subject of our cover story and the coach who led the Detroit Red Wings to a Stanley Cup triumph last spring. Every member of a Stanley Cup winning team gets to take possession of the trophy for 48 hours. Babcock decided to bring the Cup to his hometown of Saskatoon.

On his first day with the trophy, Babcock surprised the regulars at a local Tim Hortons by showing up to grab some breakfast with the Cup in tow. He spent mid-day with the Cup signing autographs for a fundraiser for the Children’s Health and Hospital Foundation of Saskatchewan. In the afternoon, Babcock and the Cup visited patients at the Royal University Hospital. And in the evening, the coach and the Cup were the star attractions at an old-fashioned barn dance featuring roasted pig and a live band.

Among the 240 party-goers in attendance were Zukerman and some of Babcock’s former McGill Redmen teammates, including his old defense partner Dr. Jay McMullan, DDS’84. Babcock remembers McGill and the people he met through the University’s hockey program fondly. “These guys looked after me,” he told the Gazette. Babcock made a point of flying Zukerman to Saskatoon for the event. “I thought he might send someone to pick me up at the airport, but he showed up himself in shorts, just like any ordinary Joe. The same old ‘Babs,’” said Zukerman.

Babcock is known for his steely-eyed intensity behind the Red Wings bench, but, as you’ll learn in Neale McDevitt’s profile of the man in this issue, Babcock is a very different sort of fellow once a game is over and the crowds have gone home.

If the Stanley Cup is one of this country’s icons, Parliament Hill is surely another.

Only two McGill graduates have led Canada as prime ministers thus far – Sir Wilfrid Laurier, BCL1864, considered by many historians to be among our greatest prime ministers, and Sir John Abbott, BCL1854, a man who didn’t particularly want the job and who didn’t hold on to it for very long.

While few McGill grads have held this country’s top position, McGill alums do tend to populate the Prime Minister’s Office with regularity, serving as senior advisers to the men and women who govern the land. As Pierre Trudeau’s executive assistant, Timothy Porteous, BA’54, BCL’57, earned the ire of U.S. president Richard Nixon when he refused to allow Nixon’s staff to take over the planning of a state visit to Ottawa. As Jean Chrétien’s policy and research director, Chaviva Hošek, BA’67, authored the electoral platforms that helped garner majority governments for the Liberals in 1997 and 2000.

You’ll find McGill graduates holding similar jobs in provincial capitals, too. Daniel Gagnier, MA’70, Quebec premier Jean Charest’s chief of staff, has been receiving some of the credit for Charest’s recent upsurge in popularity.

We didn’t realize a federal election was in the offing when we planned this issue, but it turns out our timing is great. We surveyed six graduates who have been chief lieutenants to either prime ministers or premiers about their time in government— and their views on what our leaders should be focusing on today. Maybe you’ll find some food for thought there as you prepare to mark your ballots on October 14.

DANIEL MCCABE

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