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Ex-Red Wings D Colaiacovo on Babcock: Guys hated him in Detroit, tried to get him fired every year

Former Red Wings defenseman joins list of players speaking out about coach

ANAHEIM, CA - MAY 12: Carlo Colaiacovo #28 of the Detroit Red Wings skates against the Anaheim Ducks in Game Seven of the Western Conference Quarterfinals during the 2013 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Honda Center on May 12, 2013 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images) (2013 Getty Images)

Carlo Colaiacovo is among a list of former NHL players who are speaking out with strong criticism of Mike Babcock, who was fired from his position as Toronto Maple Leafs coach last week.

Colaiacovo had a short term playing defense with the Detroit Red Wings in 2012-13 when Babcock was coach. But in an interview with TSN this week, Colaiacovo said when he was with Detroit he learned that Red Wings team leaders wanted Babcock fired, and they went to GM Ken Holland each year to try to get rid of the coach.

“I’m not going to go out on a limb and say he’s a bad guy, because that’s not my place. I only played for him for less than half a season, but I can understand why people say he’s a bad guy. I played with guys in Detroit that hated him. I told you that every year in Detroit the leaders would go in and try to get him fired, but Kenny Holland wouldn’t even entertain that conversation because he knew what he was getting as a coach,” Colaiacovo told TSN.

Colaiacovo played 6 games and 9 playoff games with the Red Wings back in 2012-13, and spent part of the year down in the AHL playing for the Grand Rapids Griffins. The organization ended up buying out his contract at the end of the season. Here’s what he said at the time:

“I came into Detroit last summer because I knew I was a top-four guy that could play in a situation there,” Colaiacovo said. “I went through some difficulties last year that I would rather not talk about, but I still believe that I’m a guy who can play top-four on any team. I believe that I’ve proved that through my play, but they have some young guys who they relied upon real hard and some guys that they’re going to lean towards next year. So who knows where I would have fit in there? ... I still believe in myself, I believe in my abilities that I can help a team win. We were a game away from eliminating the Blackhawks this year and who knows where that could have led us to, but I consider myself a big part of that."

If you recall, the Red Wings took the Chicago Blackhawks to seven games in the 2013 Western Conference Semi-Finals and lost in overtime in Game 7, 2-1. That was the last time a Babcock-coached team made it past the first round.

Now Colaiacovo apparently feels more comfortable talking about his time in Detroit as a wave of players are speaking out against Babcock. In one account, Babcock is accused of asking Leafs forward Mitch Marner, when he was just a rookie, “to list the players on the team from hardest-working to those who, in the eyes of the rookie, didn’t have a strong work ethic." The coach then presented this list to other players.

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - APRIL 23: Head Coach Mike Babcock of the Toronto Maple Leafs exits the ice after the Maple Leafs lost 5-1 to the Boston Bruins in Game Seven of the Eastern Conference First Round during the 2019 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at TD Garden on April 23, 2019 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Colaiacovo said this was typical Babcock behavior as a coach.

“This is about a guy in Mike Babcock who uses fear and a sense of being uncomfortable as, I don’t even know if it’s a motivational (thing), but he uses it as a strategy with his players,” said Colaiacovo. “Maybe that is something that worked back in the day, but in today’s generational type of player, the young generation, the young superstars, the way the game has changed, I just don’t understand when you listen to all of this -- and I have been aware of this (Marner story) for the last year or so, I don’t know why this has come out now. I’ve known about this for a long time. And I’ve known about other things that Mike Babcock has done to players that he’s coached and players that have played for him that haven’t even scratched the surface ... There’s gotta be something said about ... the way players that have played for Mike Babcock feel about him."

The former Red Wings defenseman said he really wanted to play for Detroit, but he admits he wasn’t exactly excited to play for Babcock.

“When I signed with Detroit, my biggest thing is that I really wanted to play for the Red Wings, but I was also very worried about playing for Mike Babcock because of the players that played for him, the things that they were saying about him, how he’s ‘not a good person,’ how he ‘doesn’t treat guys with respect,' how he singles guys out, how he makes examples of players. This isn’t a one-off ... if you talk to a lot of players that have played for Mike Babcock, they will all share the same sentiment: Good coach, but very, very questionable with the things he does to certain people."

Babcock did eventually leave Detroit for the Maple Leafs in 2015. Colaiacovo moved on to St. Louis, then Philadelphia and Buffalo before leaving the NHL altogether in 2016. He is now retired.

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