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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Zdeno Chara joins Patrice Bergeron in admirable action this week while attending Boston protest

File photo

Zdeno Chara joins Patrice Bergeron in admirable action this week while attending Boston protest

The Boston Bruins leadership group has shown they are about more than simple lip service and social media posts when it comes to what’s been going on in this country over the last few weeks.

Patrice Bergeron made a $50,000 donation to a pair of worthy causes this week in the Boston branch of the NAACP and Centre Multiethnique de Quebec while releasing a lengthy, passionate statement through the Bruins.

B's captain Zdeno Chara was spotted in all his 6-foot-9 glory walking in Boston on Friday afternoon during one of the protests through the city streets while sporting a Bruins mask in the crowd.

None of this is a surprise as both the 43-year-old Chara and the 33-year-old Bergeron have fostered a welcoming, friendly environment in the Bruins dressing over the years. The Bruins veterans don’t even really use the word “rookie” because Chara has always believed that it creates unnecessary separation between younger and older teammates that shouldn’t exist in a team setting.

Bergeron is partially credited with helping pull a black teammate named Gemel Smith out of a mental funk that he was mired in during his time with the Bruins. Bergeron urged Smith to talk to somebody professionally when he sensed that something wasn’t quite right with his new teammate and it helped Smith turn things around personally and professionally when he was with the Tampa Bay Lightning this season.

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Smith ended up playing just three games with the Bruins last season after being picked up on waivers, but even in that brief time Bergeron had managed to reach out and make a connection with the player that made a lasting impact. That’s exactly the kind of healthy, welcoming dressing room that’s made the Bruins a success over the years.

There isn’t a long history of black players with the Bruins in recent years as Smith, Jarome Iginla and Malcolm Subban are the only black NHLers to suit up with Boston over the last decade. So there haven't been a great deal of opportunities for Bergeron, Chara and the rest of the B’s leadership core to show just much they embrace the diversity and equal treatment for all that so many around the NHL are voicing in the days since George Floyd was horrifically killed by Minneapolis police officers.

But give full credit to both Bergeron and Chara for stepping up this week, representing the Bruins in a manner they would be proud of and showing that it’s about actions as much as -- if not more than -- words when it comes to promoting equal treatment for all, and a better tomorrow for people of all races and backgrounds.

Breaking down the winners and losers of NHL 24-team season return format

Breaking down the winners and losers of NHL 24-team season return format

The NHL has their 24-team postseason format and they’ve even drilled down on some of the specifics this week.

We still don’t know exactly when the Stanley Cup postseason can start or when NHL training camps would be going full speed ahead. Also, all of the matchups beyond the “qualifying round” are still very much in the air.

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Clearly there is still plenty we don’t know about the Stanley Cup Playoffs once the NHL presses the play button in the next few months.

But we do know enough about the proposed postseason to know who will benefit, and who will be getting the short end of the stick. So that’s enough to put together the always popular winners and losers list when it comes to the new NHL postseason format. 

Click here for the gallery.