Babin dies after battle with bone cancer
If you encountered Ed Babin, gazing intently at the action on the ice from his prized perch at the community centre, he might have growled at you. He might not have deigned to look up from his ever-present, oversized clipboard. He took his role as the Orillia Travelways statistician seriously and his gruff, devil-may-care persona was his calling card.
But the man they called 'Fanger' was, at heart, a good man with a caring soul who treated generations of hockey players who came through Orillia like the brothers he never had. He formed a unique bond with the players that neither time nor distance managed to weaken and while he never scored a single point, he was instrumental in the success of multiple hockey teams - especially the powerhouse Travelways that won a Centennial Cup in 1985.
"That team wouldn't have been the same without Ed," said Bill Smith, who owned the team with Jerry Smith. "Ed and a couple of others... they were the glue that kept it all together. Ed kept the guys out of trouble... the kids loved him."
Many of those players - some from the halcyon Travelways' days and some from more recent teams that wore the Terriers logo - contacted Babin in recent weeks as he battled bone cancer. Some of the stars who made their name in Orillia and went on to play in the NHL - guys like Kevin Maguire and Tom Tilley and Tony Hrkac - called and texted Babin during his final few weeks at Orillia Soldiers' Memorial Hospital. Many visited him prior to his death last week.
"Ed had a special relationship with a lot of players... you wouldn't believe how many players contacted him," said Smith.
Babin found a family in Orillia in the form of its hockey community. A foster child who bounced around various homes, Babin came to Orillia in the 1970s when he worked as a surveyor, first for the ministry and, later, for a private company. When that private firm closed, he found himself out of work and began volunteering to help out the city's junior hockey team. He forged a close bond with both Bill and Jerry Smith when they bought the team; the duo, which owned Seeburn Metals, hired him as an employee and he was on their payroll until he drew his final breath even though they sold their business more than 20 years ago.
"He worked in our quality control department until we sold the business and then he kind of became our personal go-to guy," said Smith. His duties were myriad from banking to property maintenance to ferrying their kids to various appointments. "Our kids are absolutely broken up by Ed's death. He was our guy."
Countless players could utter a similar refrain about Babin, said longtime local junior hockey billet and volunteer Sandy Donald. "He lived for those guys," she said. "He was gruff and tough, but it was all bluster. He had a heart of gold."
Such was their love of the curmudgeon, two players - Dave Dorosh and Francois Charlebois - bought Babin personalized licensed players for his beloved Mustang. He was as proud of that 'Fanger' plate as he was the car, Donald said.
While no one is certain about the origin of his nickname, Donald vividly remembers Babin flipping his false teeth at her then-young daughter in the early 1980s. "One day, in the auditorium after a game, during a booster club, he flipped his teeth and they went flying across the room and under a table," she recalled with a laugh. "He was trying to make my daughter laugh. Before he got the false teeth, he had just a couple of teeth that kind of resembled fangs, so I think that's where his nickname came from."
Dave Dunn, who has been a behind-the-scenes hockey volunteer for decades, said Babin, who had turned 81 in April, was in a class by himself. "He was a unique guy who came across rough, who would tell you what he thought ... he could be a grumpy old bugger," said Dunn. "But, deep down, he had a heart of gold."
He also played a key role on many teams. "The average person probably doesn't know how close hockey players get to coaches and volunteers like Ed," said Dunn. "He kept in touch with almost every guy who played here. It was amazing... he will be missed by a lot of guys."
One of those guys is Roy Micks. Micks played for the T'ways during its championship run and later ran the team when it became the Terriers of the Provincial Junior Hockey League. Babin was a key figure in both eras. "You couldn't ask for more of a volunteer. He volunteered from about 1978 until 2009, which is incredible. And, every guy I contacted to tell them about Eddy being sick "¦ you know what, every single one remembered him and appreciated him."
As an example, Micks contacted Rob Doyle, who played in Orillia just one season before going to play professional hockey in Australia and in the AHL. "Rob called Eddy in the hospital and gave him just one clue" as to his identity, Micks said. "Eddy knew who it was right away. Rob told me Eddy helped him out a lot when he was here. He said: 'He was good to me as a player.'"
A celebration of Babin's life will be held July 5 from 7 to 9 p.m. in the Sam Brown Room at Kelsey's in Orillia. Memorial donations to the Mariposa House Hospice or the Orillia Minor Hockey Association can be made at the Mundell Funeral Home in Babin's memory. Messages of condolence or remembrances can be shared at mundellfunerahome.com