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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