Winter Olympics: Tessa Virtue, Scott Moir will miss backing from Mike Babcock

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Even the world’s ice dance champs will be affected by the NHL’s refusal to participate in the 2018 Olympics.

Gold-medal favourites Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir indicated it will be strange to compete the Winter Games at PyeongChang, South Korea, without one of their good friends and supporters — Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock — rooting them on in person this February.

“Our biggest loss on a personal level is (Mike),” Moir said Wednesday during Skate Canada’s season-launching high-performance training camp at the Hershey Centre in Mississauga. “There are many Canadians who will talk about the presence and impact he has had on high-level athletes across sport — not just hockey guys.”

Moir, who won gold with Virtue in 2010 and silver in ’14, praised the two-time Olympic champion men’s hockey coach for embracing the spirit of the Games and ensuring his band of Canadian NHL stars did the same.

“Mike would come into the gym and talk to us,” the 29-year-old from Ilderton said. “I know he did the same with the curlers and (bobsleigh champs) Kaillie Humphries and Heather Moyse. We hear stories from ’06 and whatever from the old hockey teams, but we felt Mike really made them a part of the team and they were always in the room with us. It’ll be hard. There were guys we’ve been to every Games with (not going this time).”

He will be, however, one long-distance phone call away.

“We’re hoping he’ll be on speed-dial with us,” Virtue, the 28-year-old Londoner, said. “We’ll miss him there in the village, but we’ll be in touch.”

The bright side is the NHL’s stance has put two of Moir’s old London and area minor hockey mates — Strathroy’s Patrick McNeill and Justin Azevedo of West Lorne — on Hockey Canada’s Olympic radar.

McNeill was the first overall pick by Saginaw in the 2003 OHL draft, while Azevedo, a former Kitchener Ranger, was the Canadian Hockey League player of the year in 2008.

Both currently play pro in Europe.

“That’s kind of cool,” Moir said. “You can tell (early on) those two were going to be stars.”

And as a life-long Toronto hockey fan now living and training in Montreal, Moir is a little pleased Babcock will be freed up to use all his energy and focus on making the Maple Leafs better this year.

“That’s part of it and there’s things you can’t control (in the Olympic process),” he said. “I guess (Mike) will just have to make the Leafs win the Stanley Cup and make up for it for me.”

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