How a humbling experience sparked a change in David Backes for this Bruins camp

How a humbling experience sparked a change in David Backes for this Bruins camp

BOSTON – David Backes knew something needed to change this summer.

The 35-year-old had been a healthy scratch for the final three games of the Stanley Cup Final, and endured a summer full of questions as to whether he’d even make the NHL roster for the Bruins this season coming off just seven goals and 20 points last year.

“A little sand in the face at the end of last year maybe fed [my motivation] a little bit and maybe rightfully so,” said Backes, after scoring a goal and having a very good night in Boston’s 2-0 preseason win over the Devils on Wednesday night. “I think the way [the season] ended lit a fire under me this summer.”

Backes certainly got that and then some after a little “divine inspiration” this summer that put him in touch with a skating coach, Katie McDonough, that put him throw a power skating boot camp of sorts. The Bruins winger popped in to visit a bunch of young female hockey players taking a skating class with McDonough, a friend of a friend, this summer. Backes good-naturedly jumped into the drills with the girls and realized that he couldn’t perform the drill that a group of 12-year-old girls was doing with ease.

“It was maybe the most humbled I’ve been in my entire life. It was like a mohawk, into a one-leg around this cone and then explode out, and I just couldn’t put the footsteps together. I don’t know,” admitted Backes. “These were little hockey players that were doing this and going around [the cones] and I was like ‘okay, I need help here.’ And I got help.

“It was a rude awakening Day One, and then night one and night two with how sore that I was. I was using muscles that I had either neglected or had stiffened up. And it was necessary.”

So Backes determined then and there to work with McDonough, a former figure skater, this summer on his skating, and to sacrifice summer vacations with his family to work out and get ready for a hugely important NHL season in Boston.

“I put the work in and I think I feel better on the ice than I have in a long, long time,” said Backes. “My first year probably felt a little bit like this, but I feel like I’m back to moving around, creating plays and engaged in the game. It’s no excuse for years 2 and 3 whether it was dropping off, or disengaged, or whatever it was. But I feel like I’m back to that level and I needed to be in order to earn that spot.

“It was a short summer for everybody. Personally, I didn’t take any vacations and I limited my serenity time on my tractor at our property to spend more time at the gym, and on the ice. I had a skating coach for the first time in 15 years. I say she was mean to me, but I think it was necessary because I really needed to be intentional with my skating, which I had kind of took for granted. Because I’d done it for so long I thought it was all going to happen, but it was a little divine intervention where it was seemingly meant to be. I spent a lot of time on the ice with her and didn’t touch many pucks because of it. But I feel like my skating really benefitted because of it.”

It’s clearly worked as Backes has put together a strong training camp that was punctuated by the goal, five shots on net and booming physicality that he showed against New Jersey with roster spots on the line. There’s no guarantee as of yet that Backes is going to be on the final roster, but clearly he feels better knowing he’s put his best foot forward this fall.

“I thought [Backes] was good, he was banging, he was physical,” said Cassidy. “[He] got to the net, created some loose puck situations with a good forecheck, so he had his legs. [Bjork, Backes and Lindholm] seem to complement one another, that line. He’s done a nice job in camp so far.”

The job for Backes won’t be complete he cracks the final NHL roster in Boston next week, and it remains to be seen exactly what role he’s going to play on the team this season where maintaining his skating legs is going to be a challenge. He’ll be a big body and a protector for the skill players on the roster when he’s on the ice, and the hope is that there’s enough there to also improve on last season’s career-low offensive numbers.

Then again most NHL players don’t start improving their numbers at 35 years old, either.

Regardless, Backes heeded the message of last season, did something about it and has earned a chance to see what he can do to help the Boston Bruins this season in the fourth year of a five-year contract with the Black and Gold.

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Brad Marchand disses Ryan Lindgren after exchanging blows

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Brad Marchand disses Ryan Lindgren after exchanging blows

Brad Marchand had a feisty game against the New York Rangers on Sunday afternoon that included notching his 51st assist of the season in the 3-1 win at Madison Square Garden. The Bruins left winger also got into it physically with a few Rangers players along the way, including former Bruins prospect and current Rangers defenseman Ryan Lindgren.

Lindgren lined Marchand up for a hit in front of the Rangers bench in the first period that the B’s forward sidestepped, and then the two scuffled in a sequence that landed Lindgren in the box with a retaliatory roughing penalty.

During a key stretch late in the second period, it was Lindgren again starting a shoving match with Patrice Bergeron in front of the New York net. Marchand stepped in to help defend his linemate during the scrum, but then got knocked off his feet by a nasty cross-check from behind by Rangers forward Pavel Buchnevich.  

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The force of the impact knocked Marchand’s helmet off and sent him flying to the ice, but he ended up getting the only penalty called against him. The Bruins got the last laugh, though, when Charlie Coyle scored the shorthanded game-winner during the ensuing Rangers power play, and Marchand was spotted celebrating in the penalty box after the breakaway goal.  

After the game, the ever-quotable Marchand was asked about Lindgren by reporters in New York, and he let the bottom-pairing Rangers defenseman have it by unloading both of his verbal barrels on the youngster.

"He's not going to be a player there that's going to have a very long career,” said Marchand. “I'm not overly concerned about him. ... He's a good, steady defenseman ... All the best to him, hope he does a great job. But I can't see it."

Ouch. Marchand and the Bruins won on the scoreboard, and then again with the postgame chirps from Madison Square Garden.

Bruins-Rangers Talking Points: Charlie Coyle continues dominant play in B's win

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Bruins-Rangers Talking Points: Charlie Coyle continues dominant play in B's win

GOLD STAR: Charlie Coyle has picked up the scoring pace as of late with four goals in his last five games. And now he was scored in two straight games after picking up the shorthanded game-winning goal for the Bruins on Sunday afternoon.

Coyle was a dominant force again on Sunday against the Rangers from his third line center spot and has played with the same kind of strength, motor and relentless play that everybody saw from him in the playoffs last year. Even better, Coyle is now on a pace to get close to 20 goals this season for the Bruins, and his play in Sunday’s game was a beauty. He broke up a play at the Rangers offensive blue line, sped behind the New York power play and then threw a couple of moves at Alexander Georgiev before flipping a forehand bid past him late in the second period.

Coyle finished with the goal, a plus-2 rating, three shots on net and a hit and a takeaway in 15:57 of ice time for the Bruins.

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BLACK EYE: Pavel Buchnevich certainly made a statement about his game on Sunday. He was a team-worst minus-3 and he managed to miss the net with all four of his shot attempts.

But the biggest moment was his cheap cross-check to an unsuspecting Brad Marchand that knocked the Bruins forward’s helmet off as he squared up with Ryan Lindgren after the New York defenseman started trouble with Patrice Bergeron.

Buchnevich also had a giveaway in 17:14 of ice time as many of New York’s best players simply didn’t do enough in a game that the Rangers desperately needed to stay in shouting distance of the playoffs. But it’s amazing that Buchnevich wasn’t called for even a minor penalty for throwing a major cheap shot at one of the NHL’s best players.

TURNING POINT: The turning point for the game was the cheap shot Buchnevich threw on Marchand. Marchand was the only one whistled for a penalty as he cross-checked Lindgren while sticking up for his linemate Bergeron, and then Buchnevich came out of nowhere to knock the Bruins winger off the ice with a cross-check from behind.

The force of the Buchnevich two-hander knocked Marchand’s helmet off, but somehow there was no minor penalty called on him.

As the saying goes, though, the puck don’t lie. With Marchand in the box for what should have been matching penalties, Charlie Coyle scored on a shorthanded breakaway for the game-winning goal at the end of the second period.

HONORABLE MENTION: As has been the case for a number of games since the NHL All-Star break, Charlie McAvoy was one of the best players on the ice for the Bruins. McAvoy scored another goal when his point shot deflected off a Rangers body in front before fluttering in past Georgiev, and gave the Bruins an early 1-0 lead in the game.

McAvoy finished with a game-high 24:52 of ice time, scored a goal, had five shot attempts and was a plus-1 rating while throwing two registered hits and blocking a couple of shots as well.

McAvoy played an elite, tough level at both ends of the ice and was pushing the envelope offensively in a way he wasn’t doing earlier in the season when his confidence wasn’t at an all-time high. McAvoy is playing his best hockey of the season right now and Sunday’s win was another example of it.

BY THE NUMBERS: 1 – the number of assists in Sunday’s win for the Bruins despite scoring three goals. Brad Marchand had the lone assist on Patrice Bergeron’s empty netter while Charlie McAvoy and Charlie Coyle’s goals were both unassisted earlier in the game.

QUOTE TO NOTE: “He's not going to be a player there that's going to have a very long career. I'm not overly concerned with him." –Brad Marchand on New York Rangers defenseman (and former Bruins prospect) Ryan Lindgren after the two players scuffled a couple of times during Sunday’s matinee.