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Backes, St. Louis teammates have no time for post-Olympic blues

03/12/2014, 1:30pm EDT
By Jason L. Young - Special to USAHockey.com

ST. LOUIS -- David Backes will forever be grateful for the opportunity to represent the United States in the Olympic Winter Games.

He did so in 2010, helping Team USA win a silver medal in Vancouver. And despite falling short of expectations with a fourth-place finish last month in Sochi, Russia, he said the opportunity to wear the nation’s sweater again was a privilege, and he was proud about what the team accomplished.

Now, two weeks after resuming his regular job as captain for the St. Louis Blues, Backes wants to move past the disappointment of how the Winter Games ended and prepare for the stretch run of the National Hockey League season.

“We haven’t done any group counseling or anything, but we can share stories, talk about it a little bit and try to put it behind us in that way,” he said. “But we still represented our country and felt we put a lot on the line and had a lot of great moments over there. No one can take that away from us. The sour thing is we didn’t bring home any hardware.”

Backes, a forward from Minneapolis, was one of four Blues to play for Team USA. He was joined by linemate and center T.J. Oshie, defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk and recently acquired goalie Ryan Miller.

None have gotten much rest since leaving Sochi.

The Blues played four days after losing to Finland 5-0 in the bronze-medal game and have had eight games in a two-week period, including six on the road. They went 5-3 during that stretch, losing the first two after returning from Russia before putting together a five-game win streak.

Despite having the NHL’s best record with 95 points following a 3-2 overtime loss to Dallas at home Tuesday night, St. Louis players and coaches question whether they’re playing as well as they’re capable since the Games.

“I don’t think we’re going to use any excuses like that,” Backes said. “We’ve done a good job of resting when we’ve had the time off and been able to recover. That’s been a couple of weeks now, so we have to put those things behind us and get back into the swing of things and get back to our brand of hockey and winning games again.”

St. Louis coach Ken Hitchcock, a coach for the gold-medal-winning Canada squad, dismissed any notion that an Olympic hangover would last two weeks after the Games, even if his team had 10 players on their respective national teams. He said none of his players have pointed to the compacted NHL schedule caused by the Olympic break or the Blues’ stretch of five of their first six games back being on the road for any lackluster play.

It’s worth having professionals in the Games despite the challenges, Miller said.

“You’ve got two weeks of people tuning in, watching sports that they didn’t grow up,” said Miller, of East Lansing, Mich. “I grew up in a wintery place but I didn’t grow up with bobsledding and luging and curling, and I’m interested in that kind of stuff. And people that don’t grow up with hockey, they’re going to watch.

“I think it’s important for our game. It’s just something where maybe we can find a better way to do it. I’m open for any of those ideas, but I think it’s crucial for the sport.”

St. Louis has a month remaining in the regular season and continues to be a favorite to contend for the Stanley Cup. The Blues have 17 games leading up to their April 13 season finale, nine at home including a five-game homestand.

Backes said he and his teammates don’t offer any excuses for their recent play. Still, he’s glad there’s time before his squad has to worry that too many bad games will cost them more dearly than they are right now.  

“We want to make sure we’re peaking at the right time, and that’s when the playoffs come,” he said. “Until then, we’ll have a few trials and tribulations and learning lessons and then we’ll get into that second season, which is really due or die.”

Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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