Blues power forward to represent USA for first time as Olympian
By LOUIE KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- A kid who grew up in the state of Minnesota -- like fellow Blues teammate Erik Johnson -- David Backes certainly knows a thing or two about the 1980 'Miracle on Ice' USA Olympic squad.
After all, it's one of the greatest -- if not the greatest -- upsets in modern sports history when the United States downed the Soviet Union 4-3 before going on to knock off Finland in the gold medal game.
Hailing from Minneapolis, Backes was probably too young to remember the lifelong choice his father Steve had to make when he was just in the sixth grade.
Steve and David's mother Karen were faced with the life-changing decision. Steve Backes was working for a railroad company, had tremendous longevity there -- 25-plus years -- and was faced with the decision of uprooting his family and transferring to Dallas.
But instead, Steve Backes chose not to uproot, kept his family in Minnesota for the sake of his kids (along with David's sister Melanie) and live in a comfortable and familiar environment.
"The sacrifices my parents made for me are ones you never forget," said David Backes, who will fulfill a lifelong dream of representing the USA today when ice hockey competition begins in the XXI Winter Olympic Games. "My folks made the ultimate sacrifice."
Indeed they did, and today, Steve and Karen Backes will be in GM Place when the US takes on Switzerland (2 p.m.) along with Backes' childhood sweetheart and wife Kelly.
But David Backes, whose road took him from Spring Lake Park -- where his No. 5 jersey is retired and hangs in the rafters at Fogerty Arena -- to a two-year stint in Junior A hockey with the Lincoln Stars. After being selected by the Blues with the 62nd pick in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, he played at Minnesota State University-Mankato for three years before going to the Blues' minor league affiliate in Peoria. He would play in his first NHL game on Dec. 19, 2006 in Pittsburgh.
He's represented the USA at the IIHF World Championships from 2007-2009, helping the Americans to a fourth-place finish a year ago in Switzerland -- ironically, USA's opponent today.
And now for the first time, David Backes can call himself an Olympian.
"Every time I leave this country for even Canada or Europe, I love coming back," Backes explains. "I love the freedoms we have, the luxuries we have ... just the way everything is done here. You make what you are and you have that freedom and ability of a free market to come from nothing and make yourself something and really prosper. To have that, to see that, to see the hope of people's faces and the standard of living that we have, it's an honor to represent the red, white and blue in international competition."
Backes draws his inspiration from the 1980 squad, like many Americans that don the USA sweater do.
"From Minnesota, I think about half the guys on the 1980 team are from Minnesota," Backes said. "Herb Brooks (the 1980 USA head coach) has got a lot of roots in Minnesota, he's got a statue outside the Xcel Energy Center. And then the movie 'Miracle,' (was) really inspiring to see the story and the opportunity and the way that those guys seized the opportunity at the 1980 Olympics. It's inspiring, it's something that I've watched growing up, been able to draw a little bit from that. Those guys had a little bit of a different scenario where they had a six- or eight-month exhibition schedule that they can come together and get in a little practice before they played their first game. ... We've tried to talk to those guys, get a little bit of knowledge from them and get some experience of what to expect when we're at the games."
Backes, 25, has been the poster child for USA hockey this year. He showcased Team USA's sweater on NBC's Today Show, which meant he was a virtual lock to make the 23-man roster.
Team USA General Manager all but confirmed it.
"I'll tell you a story about David Backes ... when we were at Switzerland at the World Championships last year, we were in Berne and it's an hour train ride from Zurich where the players all flew in," Burke recalled. "The players all fly in at night, they land in Zurich at 10 in the morning, we're skating at noon. Most of the players took the train and just waited in the training room for the players to come off. David Backes and (the Blues') T.J. Oshie dressed and went out on the bench and made the last half of practice.
"To me, David Backes is a self-made hockey player. He's worked his tail off to get to where he is. And he does lots of things well. So yeah, he was a lock. We went to David ... David won't admit this, but we went to David well in advance of the team being named and told him we were counting on him."
Blues coach Davis Payne, a Canadian, sees Backes on a daily basis and said he won't hold any grudges if Backes nets the game-winner against Canada.
"I won't hold it against him ... for very long," Payne joked.
And as David Backes makes his first leap into Olympic competition with the USA, he'll do it with a grateful heart, one where a lot of the credit goes to his caring and dedicated parents. Just think if Steve Backes made the decision to leave Minnesota 15 years ago?
"If you had something to do with representing your country so proudly, to get that gold medal, to hear that anthem, be on the top of the podium ... you want to sing, but the emotions would probably overtake you," Backes said. "March 1st ... Olympic gold, June 1st ... Stanley Cup. It's tough to chose between the two, but obviously, they're both something I'd like to have one of each in my medal case before I'm done playing."
If Backes puts his mind and talents to use, Backes will likely see both goals come to fruition.