October 08, 2013

Marc Of A Winner - Marc Habscheid

Marc Habscheid grew up on a grain and cattle farm in Wymark, Saskatchewan, but his life was destined to be spent in hockey rinks around the globe.

In his major junior days Habscheid was a top notch sniper for the WHL's Saskatoon Blades. But being able to score in the junior leagues did not get him into the NHL. Instead he wound up scratching and clawing for every chance he could get as a journeyman forward in 345 NHL contests.

Over 14 years Habscheid skated with 13 different teams around the globe. That included the Edmonton Oilers, Minnesota North Stars, Detroit Red Wings and Calgary Flames, as well as minor league places ranging from Moncton to Las Vegas to Bern, Switzerland.

For all his travels, I will always remember Habscheid for his play with the Canadian national team.

It started back in 1982 as he helped Team Canada win their very first world junior championship. Habscheid led the way with 6 goals, upsetting the Soviets along the way.

But he went on to star for the men's national team for the 1986-87 and 1987-88 seasons, culminating with representing the nation at the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary.

The journey to the national team was an interesting one. Habscheid was this scoring sensation out of Western Canada who idolized Wayne Gretzky. A lot of people had high hopes that he would magically unite with Gretzky to become the next great Oilers scoring star. That never came close to happening, as the Oilers had too many scoring stars. Habscheid never had much of a chance to show what he could do with the puck.

Habscheid worked hard on his all around game but the bust label was dangling over him. He refused to believe that, as he knew he could play in the NHL. In fact, when the Oilers tried demoting him to the farm in October of 1985 he refused to report. Instead he chose to enroll in the business program at Northern Alberta Technical College and remain suspended until the Oilers traded him.

The Oilers eventually traded Habscheid to Minnesota in December 1985. Because he missed three months of the season he agreed to report to Minnesota's farm team - the AHL's Springfield Indians - for the season. He initially made the North Stars roster out of training camp the next season, but after 2 goals in 15 games the Stars tried demoting Habscheid again. Again he refused to report. The two sides compromised with Habscheid joining Team Canada for the remainder of 1986-87 season as well as the 1987-88 pre-Olympic tour and 1988 Winter Olympics.

Habscheid gained a lot of respect and experience while playing with the national team. He returned to the NHL as an undeniable presence, scoring 23 goals and 54 points in 76 games for the North Stars in the 1988-89 season. He would split the next two seasons between Detroit and Calgary before disappearing from the NHL. He continued his career in Europe and in the minor leagues.

Habscheid would return to junior hockey as a successful coach, including at the national team level. In fact he was the first graduate of the Canadian world juniors program to return as head coach. Canada would win silver in Halifax in that tournament.

"Coaching is a great job because you're dealing with players who are trying to find their way in life. As a coach, you can impact them in terms of giving them direction in their lives, whether that's playing in the National Hockey League or being a productive member of the work force. We're like teachers, in a way, and I feel that I'm lucky to be in a position to help influence these kids."

As far as coaching on the ice goes, Habscheid certainly had no shortage of coaches to draw from. He worked under the likes of Glen Sather, John Muckler, Herb Brooks, Dave King, Jacques Demers, Bryan Murray and Tom Renney.

"All I did was take a little bit of what I thought was good from everybody and rolled into something I'm comfortable with."

But there was one thing Habscheid truly believes first and foremost.

"So much coaching has to do with Xs and Os, but, more than anything, we're dealing with people. To me, that's the key - knowing how to deal with people, because that's what hockey players are - people first, hockey players second."

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