If there is one player on the St. Louis Blues who embodies exactly what the club stands for, it is captain David Backes.
A rare blend of skill, size, toughness and character, the 28-year-old native of Minneapolis has developed into an important leader, both on the ice and in the dressing room, for a squad that is a bona fide Stanley Cup contender this year.
After the Blues finished second in the Western Conference last season, their disappointing second-round playoff exit at the hands of the eventual champion Los Angeles Kings serves as motivation in 2012-13.
“It’s a process, there’s no question about it, but every day we’re coming to the rink trying to get better,” said Backes, who has twice topped 30 goals in his seven-year NHL career. “We’ve hit a few stumbling blocks, had to overcome some adversity, and had a few learning lessons along the way. And as long as we come out on the other side for the better in learning from those, then they’re all well worth it.”
With the Blues off to a strong 6-2-0 start through their first eight games, they appear to have picked up right where they left off last year. Teamed up on the club’s top forward line with T.J. Oshie and David Perron, the 6-foot-3, 225-pound center was just getting started, accumulating one goal and six points, with four points (one goal, three assists) coming in the last three contests.
“That line is just getting up to speed now,” St. Louis coach Ken Hitchcock said. “None of them played [during the lockout] and they were a little behind, but now they’re starting to be very effective, getting scoring chances. The pace was pretty tough for them at the start, but now they’re getting used to it.”
And while there’s little doubt Backes will begin finding the back of the net more frequently soon, it’s his quiet strength as a leader that has really impressed both his coach and his teammates and has really defined his team.
“He’s one of those guys that really leads by example first,” said Blues veteran Jamie Langenbrunner, a former captain both in New Jersey and with the 2010 U.S. Olympic Team that Backes also played on. “He’s not afraid to say something, not afraid to speak up when need be, but his actions are what sets him apart. He pushes guys in the right direction and I think our team is a reflection of him in the way we play and the way we come to work every night.”
Added St. Louis forward Andy McDonald: “I think he’s been groomed to be the captain for a while. You could see it in his early years — he’s definitely a leader. He’s not afraid to stand up and say something in the room when it needs to be said, and he backs it up on the ice with his play and the way he approaches the game. He’s a good fit for our team.”
Now in his second year as captain, Backes has taken on more leadership responsibilities while continuing to grow into a respected leader.
“They gave me a letter on my jersey because they liked what I was doing before, so to change things drastically would be a huge disservice to the position,” said Backes, the Blues’ second-round draft pick (62nd overall) in 2003. “So I keep the same attitudes, but at the same time, there’s more responsibility, some things to maybe delegate and take the rest on my shoulders to try to make us better.”
“Last year, he deferred to a lot of people, and now he takes ownership on his own,” added Hitchcock. “Before maybe he went to an older player to see what was going on. Now if there’s conflict or anything, he just comes directly to me.”
Another key component to Backes’ development has been his extensive international involvement with Team USA. Since 2007, Backes has pulled on the national team jersey for three World Championship tournaments and the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Winter Games.
“Any time you can play for your country and wear the red, white and blue, it’s quite an honor, and I’m very humbled by that experience,” said Backes, who collected one goal and three points in six games en route to the 2010 Olympic silver medal. “The World Championships are great, but the Olympics were a whole other level and one of the most fun experiences I’ve had playing hockey. I’m grateful for those experiences, indebted to them, and hopefully, there’s more to come.”
And if the NHL sends its players to the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi next season (something still to be determined), there’s little question that Backes will be among the candidates for Team USA.
“Obviously there’s the logistics, more business to get out of the way, and then I’ve got to play well enough to hopefully make the team,” Backes said. “But day by day, I think if I can take care of what we’re concentrating on here in the room, then the rest will take care of itself.”
“I would imagine he’s a shoo-in for that,” Langenbrunner said. “If he’s not one of the best players in the league, he’s definitely one of the top American players, so he’s going to be a guy that, if the NHL players are going, he’s going to be on the U.S. team, and I’m sure he’ll be looked on not only for his experience and leadership and obviously for his all-around play.”
Just like he is now in St. Louis.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.
Tag(s): Player Features