[Pictured above: Wayne Babych and former trainer Innes Mackie in March, 1977]
By: Lesley Dawson
Former Winterhawks and Edmonton natives Wayne and Dave Babych are widely considered to be one of the greatest pairs of brothers in the history of the Western Hockey League.
Wayne, the elder Babych brother, was a member of the original Edmonton Oil Kings when the franchise made the move to Portland in 1976. Wayne, who was 18 at the time, had spent a total of three years with the Oil Kings before coming to Portland for the Winterhawks’ inaugural season.
By coincidence, Wayne’s sister had traveled through Portland on a trip to the Oregon Coast the year before the franchise relocation was announced. Suddenly, the place Wayne had heard his sister describe became his new home — a move that Wayne understandably met with nerves.
“It was a pretty big change but the welcome we got in Portland was great,” Wayne said. “I remember looking at my billets and I was really nervous, but I could’ve never picked a better couple to take care of me and be second parents to me while I was there.”
Not only did Portland provide a change in lifestyle for the high-scoring right wing as he left home for the first time, but it also was a drastic change in scenery as he left the foothills of the Rockies in Alberta for the Pacific Northwest.
“There’s so much you just don’t see very many places where you’re close to the mountains, the Columbia River, and the beaches — you don’t experience that kind of stuff in the middle of the winter in Canada,” Wayne said. “We’re used to driving in the winter in icy conditions. I remember going to my billets in Gresham, and there were state troopers going sideways down the highway. Where’d they learn to drive?”
One of the pioneers of the Winterhawks franchise, Wayne’s milestones still mean something special to him even after a successful 11-year professional career. Of all of the memories Wayne has of his time as a Winterhawk, he maintains that scoring three goals in 25 seconds – setting the franchise record for the fastest two and three goals scored by the same player in that effort – was one of the best.
“It was a blur — right after that, it rang off the crossbar so we should’ve gotten four goals. I’ll never forget that,” Wayne said.
Nearly forty years after graduating from major junior, Wayne still ranks 22nd in franchise history with 233 points in 130 games (100 goals, 133 assists) and holds a host of other accolades: 24th in total goals (100), two 50-goal seasons, and one five-goal outing to tie the second-most goals scored by a single Winterhawk in a game.
But as Wayne ramped up his offense in Portland, the Winterhawks noticed the blossoming talent of his younger brother Dave back in Edmonton. The young defenseman earned a spot on the Winterhawks roster when he was 16 years old, joining his older brother in Portland for part of the 1977-78 season, and it certainly helped to have Wayne there to show him the ropes.
“Wayne would show me around and show me through Portland as I got to meet everyone in the organization,” Dave said. “Wayne had the life experience – he was very settled in Portland. I just followed what he did and how he carried himself. He made it easy by example.”
Defenseman Dave Babych ends up in an opponent’s net on the rush.
After a handful of games in Portland, Dave returned to Edmonton for the remainder of the 1977-78 season as Wayne finished what would become his final year with the Winterhawks. At the end of that season, Wayne was selected as the third overall pick in the 1978 NHL Draft and immediately appeared on the St. Louis roster.
That fall, Dave joined the Winterhawks full time for two standout seasons in Portland, including a trip to the WHL Finals. Dave was then selected second overall by the Winnipeg Jets in the 1980 NHL Draft, a move which made the Babych brothers the high-drafted pair of brothers in NHL history at that time. [Only Pierre and Sylvain Turgeon have broken this record, and it has only been matched by Vancouver’s Daniel and Henrik Sedin.]
Dave notes that the coaching and mentorship he received in junior prepared him for a jump into what would become a lengthy professional career. At one point, the blueliner was playing nearly 35 minutes a game in Portland under Head Coach Ken Hodge.
“I’d get tired — it’s a pretty tough game,” Dave explained. “One time, [Hodge] says ‘Babs, I’d play you as much as I could, but you have to make sure that you don’t take shifts off or I’ll cut your ice time back.’ That was an eye-opener for me.”
“Coming from him, you had to respect it. When I went to Winnipeg, I was playing 30 minutes a game and I remembered that I couldn’t take shifts off,” Dave added.
Dave assuredly didn’t take any shifts off as he went straight to the NHL without a stop in the minors, quickly becoming a mainstay on the Winnipeg roster and a two-time NHL All-Star with the Jets in the process. Five years after Dave joined Wayne in the professional ranks, the brothers got an opportunity to appear on the same roster for the second time in their careers, this time while with the Hartford Whalers.
“There’s nothing like it,” Wayne said about reuniting with his brother in Hartford. “Everyone has their own path and you don’t get to choose who you play for when you get drafted, but it was a great experience and a lot of fun to end up together.”
Dave finished nearly twenty years in the NHL with totals of 723 points in 1,195 games including an appearance in the seven-game Stanley Cup Final series against the New York Rangers in 1994 as a member of the Vancouver Canucks.
Dave was most recently in Portland as the team shifted ownership groups in the mid-2000s, and still felt a familiar feeling when he was back in what used to be General Manager Brian Shaw’s office.
“I walked in the dressing room, looked around and it didn’t seem like anything had changed. It was déjà vu all over again, I thought maybe I’d get yelled at again,” Dave said with a laugh.
Now, Dave gets a healthy dose of nostalgia as his youngest son Cal plays in the WHL for the Prince Albert Raiders. In October, Cal and the Raiders made a stop in the rink Dave called home 40 years ago on the team’s lone visit to Portland this year, sparking plenty of memories from the NHL veteran’s junior career.
“I asked if he saw my picture or anything and he said ‘yeah, they’ve got some banner hanging in the Coliseum’,” Dave said with a laugh. “Cal thought that was pretty neat, and it’s nice to see that he appreciates that too after all these years.”
Wayne is now building and designing golf courses, often partnering with brother Dave, working on landscaping projects for large hotels in Alberta. Dave is now in the oil and natural gas industry, and hopes to become involved in hockey again.