We're on the Blackfoot
Mikael Backlund has been reminded how fickle the world of professional sports can be. In November, the 24-year-old Swede was dealing with trade rumours, exacerbated by his lowly eight points in 25 games through the NHL season’s second month. Then in December, something clicked, and the former first-round pick started producing.
So much so that his name stopped popping up in one rumour mill — the one that had him being shipped to various other NHL cities — and jumped into a mill of a different kind — the one that had him being bandied about as a potential Olympic replacement for Henrik Sedin on Team Sweden. Instead of following his countrymen from afar in their quest for Olympic gold in Sochi, Russia, Backlund, who has produced nine goals and 14 points in 18 games since the calendar flipped to 2014, decided to get away from hockey completely.
“I was feeling good, and it was a lot of fun, but at the same time, there’s a lot of pressure on you when you start delivering — and I put a lot of pressure on myself,” Backlund said Thursday. “So it was a nice relief to just let hockey go and enjoy other things in life. “It was a nice mental breather to get away from hockey for a little bit, and now I’m just really excited to get going again and keep playing the same way I did. If the points come, they come. “But the biggest key is just to keep working hard and doing the small things right.”
Backlund will be in no rush to climb out of bed to watch Sweden take on Finland in their semifinal clash Friday morning, but he insists it’s nothing more than a case of having other things on the agenda, rather than any sort of sour taste in his mouth over being excluded from his country’s Olympic squad. “I’m not a kid anymore, so I’m not as excited (to watch the Olympics) as I was when I was younger,” Backlund said. “It’s going to be an interesting game. “It would be great if we could win the gold. “I haven’t put too much time into watching the Olympics. It’s been too early in the morning, and I’m busy in the mornings.”
The focus, instead, is on continuing to produce offensively for the Flames. It’s something that has him feeling a little bit of extra pressure, compared to earlier in the season. “Starting in December, I was getting more and more attention, and after Christmas, especially,” Backlund said. “I was starting to play well — and getting the points and goals usually brings a lot more attention and a little more pressure. Personally, I put a little bit too much pressure (on myself) maybe, and I had a good chat with my mental coach (local sports psychology specialist Matt Brown) the other day, and I’m excited to get going again and just getting back to enjoying the game and just have fun and leave it all out there.”
Backlund admits, however, he’s given thought to participating in the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. Whether he — or any other NHLer, for that matter — gets another chance to compete for a gold medal is still up in the air. The NHL considered pulling out of the next Olympics long before the firestorm created by New York Islanders star John Tavares suffering a serious knee injury earlier this week further clouded matters. “Obviously, it crossed my mind, but I don’t even know if NHL guys are going to go — it’s far away,” Backlund added. “It’s a long way to travel, and with the injuries happening now, we’ll see what they say. “It’s 2018, so there’s a lot of years to go, but, obviously, I’d love to represent my country.”