Team USA members cherish Olympic run; present focus: get Blues to playoffs
By LOUIE KORAC
HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- When the Blues' plane touched down early Sunday morning after a road game in Denver Saturday night, nobody was glad to see St. Louis more than David Backes and Erik Johnson.
It had been nearly a month since the two had been able to use their own respective house keys.
They bid adieu to home on Valentine's Day, shoveled off to Vancouver for the Winter Olympic Games, then went straight from Vancouver to Phoenix and met their Blues teammates for a three-game trip.
It was a long period without the comforts of home.
"I think it was 23 days since we've been home, so to see my dogs and cats and to lay in my own bed was a good feeling," Backes said.
"The biggest difficulty was probably just being on the road for 25 days," Johnson said. "I just finally slept in my own bed two days ago. It was a mental and physical grind, but it's something that you learn from and get better from going forward in the future. You can take all those experiences with you. It will help yourself as a player going forward."
But the two accomplished a lot during that period of time. Between USA's 5-1 record and a silver medal finish at the Olympics, to going 2-1 on the Blues' trip, winning seven of nine games is not too shabby.
"It's a once-in-a-lifetime type of deal. I enjoyed every second of it," Backes said of the Olympics. "The hockey was great, the city was great. It's one of those things where I don't know if we really have had time to digest what went on, but from what I've digested, it was a pretty pleasurable experience.
"Just being there, there's no replacement for that. It was amazing."
Or was it?
Johnson is still smarting over finishing second to Canada in the gold medal game and having to "settle" for silver honors instead.
"I'm still not in that phase yet. I'm sure it'll take a little more time to get over it," Johnson said. "A silver medal is a first loser, that's kind of the way I've looked at it. It's an honor and it's a disappointment in the same way. It's pretty bittersweet.
"As big a disappointment as it was to get the silver, I'll take it for four years, I guess."
But what Backes and Johnson and both Team USA and Team Canada did for their sport was draw huge interest not only in Canada's 3-2 overtime victory but for the sport itself.
Nearly all of Canada was glued to the television sets, if they were not there for the game, and roughly 80 million US viewers tuned into the gold medal game.
"There's so many people and there's such a following of it," Johnson said. "It's really good to see especially, because hockey hasn't been as well followed in the past decade or so. It's really nice to get that exposure. You just think of all the people that watch their countries across the world, too, took in an appreciation for the game. It was such a terrific hockey game to play in. It was probably a lot of fun to watch though."
There has been some debate in recent months from NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman regarding the use of NHL players in the Olympics, starting with the 2014 Games in Sochi, Russia.
The NHL is debating whether it's worth it to shut the league down for two weeks and use the compressed and sometimes difficult schedule to cram in 82 games to sacrifice two weeks worth of shutdown time.
Washington Capitals superstar Alex Ovechkin, a Russian, has already let his comments be known that he'd leave the Capitals to play in his home country no matter what the league decides.
Johnson is among the majority that want to keep playing.
"I think it would be a huge disappointment if (NHL players) weren't (allowed)," he said. "I know the (1980) team is made up of all amateurs, and it kind of made for that miracle story to take place, but I think all NHL players are pretty adamant about playing in 2014. I feel strongly about it. I think we'll all be there through."
But now that the time of their lives are behind them for now, both Backes and Johnson have jumped in head-first into the grind of the NHL playoff push for the Blues.
For the USA duo, this four-day break in between games has been something they've looked forward to.
"That's part of the game. Luckily we're young and we've got fresh legs and we don't have to worry about as much as some of the older guys have to," Johnson said. "We're young, we're going to battle through it. We're going through a bit of a grind here from not being home and not having a break, but it doesn't matter right now. We just have to win and we'll play tired and do whatever we have to do to get these points because everyone wants to get into the playoffs."
"We've got to go win five in a row again and get back on that winning train," Backes said. "We can't dwell on (Saturday's 7-3 loss at Colorado). We can't stay in that mode and (we've got to) get back to the way we were playing against Dallas and Phoenix."