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.
If you’ve ever called USA Hockey with officiating registration questions, you’ve likely heard the voice of Helen Fenlon. As the manager of officiating administration, Fenlon is the brains behind registration operations. She started working with USA Hockey in 1991 and joined the officiating department in 1993.
Fenlon took a break from readying eager officials for the upcoming season to tell us more about herself and the registration process.
USA Hockey: How did you first get involved with USA Hockey? Did you lace up the skates or make the call on the ice a time or two?
Helen Fenlon: (Laughs) No, I wasn’t a ref or player. I was a mom and I had a child that played. I volunteered at the local association for a number of years and volunteered at USA Hockey. Before I knew it I was employed by them and have been doing this job ever since. It’s nice because I’ve seen the volunteer side and know how the local and state boards work because I did all of that when my kids were growing up.
USA Hockey: What’s a typical day like for you?
Helen Fenlon: I work on the officiating registration. When everyone registers (to be an official) they are mailed out books to do the test and emailed information about doing the test online and ways to sign up for seminars online as well. Then I score the test when they come in for the closed-book test and basically answer all the questions that pertain to the ice hockey refs. I manage approximately 24,000 registrations when from August 1 through March. Once the registration period is over, we start getting ready for next year.
USA Hockey: How has the registration process changed in your 21-year tenure?
Helen Fenlon: When we first started, we used to mail them out the application, have them mail it back with a check and then we would process it. Once that was done, we would mail them a test and they would mail us back their answer sheet when they were done. It was all done by hand back then. Now, for registration, they just go online and pay with a credit card and the test is also done online. It’s much easier for everyone involved.
In the past, we also would just do an open-book test, but it’s evolved into different levels of doing an open-book and closed-book test, and some do a skating exam, too. Also going into place this year, everyone will do an online seminar.
USA Hockey: Officials must be happy to have the process accelerated thanks to online capabilities.
Helen Fenlon: It’s great for people to access the test faster and be able to turn materials around faster so they can start working. To some of these people, it’s a job. Others do it because they want to help kids. People do it for all kinds of different reasons. For me, it’s impressive to see people who stick with (officiating) for so long.
USA Hockey: How have the resources available to officials changed through the years?
Helen Fenlon: Right now, with the new rules and programs in place, the amount of resources available for officials education is improving, but we’re always looking for more ways to help our officials be successful.
USA Hockey: What’s one thing you want to remind everyone about?
Helen Fenlon: It’s always been my goal for everybody across the country, whether you’re in Colorado Springs, New York, California or anywhere in between, to follow the same rules as far as being able to become an official and complete the registration. That’s the fair way, and it’s the best way to ensure the best quality of officiating throughout the country.
Tag(s): Player Features