Johnson: Sochi talk doesn’t bother Backlund
Flames centre handles Olympic rumours like a pro
PHILADELPHIA — Eerie. Uncanny. So spittin’-image close it could’ve been photoshopped.
Was Mikael Backlund going to the Olympics after all? In … sequins?
Because there, taped to the wall leading into the visiting hockey dressing room at the Wells Fargo Center on Friday afternoon were Xeroxed color photos of a figure-skating pair, the man hoisting his female partner in the air.
And the gent doing the heavy lifting could’ve passed for Backlund. Or some long-lost, never-spoken-of twin.
“I’ve gotta be honest, I did figure skating when I was three years old with my sister,” confessed Backlund, handling the gentle ribbing of his Calgary Flames teammates with aplomb. “But I didn’t like it.”
Asked if he could explain the technicalities of a double salchow for the kiss-and-cry ignorant, he smiled.
“No,” was the blunt confession. “I have no clue.”
Could he even spell ‘double salchow’?
“No. Wouldn’t even try.”
Hard to fathom anyone handling what had to be such an emotional 24 hours better than Backlund has. It’s not every day a fella has a silk-spun, five-ringed Olympic rug yanked out from underneath him.
Thursday’s wildfire speculation that the surging centreman was on his way to Russia as a wildcard, last-minute addition turned out, as he’d expected, to be nothing more than another social media false-alarm fire drill — a Swedish reporter writing that Backlund should be the one to replace the injured Henrik Sedin on the Swedish roster for Sochi was wildly misinterpreted that he had been chosen.
On Friday, Washington’s Marcus Johansson officially got the call instead.
“Yeah there was a little buzz there but I never really expected to go,” repeated Backlund, the soul of politeness. “I haven’t heard anything all year. Just trying to focus on the game (Thursday) night. Just going to bed as usual. When I woke up I checked my phone, but I do that every morning, too.
“Like I said, I didn’t expect to go.”
Backlund’s stellar play of late, how far he’s elevated his game since the beginning of December, is the reason the Swedish reporter pumped his tires in the first place. Adding to the conjecture were his ties with Tre Kroner coach Pär Mårts.
“I played two World Championships, one with him, and two World Juniors with him as coach. So I know him well but I didn’t hear anything.”
Rather than act peeved that no one from the Swedish camp bothered to call despite the rising furor, or to lash out at the jump-the-gun manner that mere opinion is nowadays instantly being sold as irrefutable fact, Backlund, bless him, chose not to lash out; instead to take the high ground.
“It wasn’t their fault. I mean, social media made it bigger than it was. If they had called, sure it would’ve been nice but I’m not feeling any disappointment or anything against them or anybody,” Backlund said.
“The media might’ve but I have no idea if the coach actually did consider me. I feel good about myself, if he did or not. I mean it’s nice to get some credit, Swedish media and over here, too. So it was nice to get mentioned in the biggest newspapers in Sweden, obviously. So there’s good buzz going on there about me.
“Just gotta move on and enjoy the break.”
So instead of heading to the airport with bags in hand, he’ll be there in a fetching capacity.
“My three best friends from Sweden are flying in to Calgary tomorrow and we’re going to have a good week in Calgary. They were pretty excited about it and me, too, so they weren’t going to be too happy (if he had been selected) … well, happy for me.”
Backlund’s maturation as a player over these last three months has been well documented. His maturation as a professional is obviously keeping pace.
“To play in the Olympic Games is the dream of every kid, every athlete,” Flames coach Bob Hartley said. “But his progression at least gave him a chance and got his name there. Still didn’t get him a jersey but who knows what’s going to happen during the next Olympics.
“He’s gonna be someone that in Sweden they’ll be very proud of.”
So Backlund was, unfortunately, proven right Friday. No time to mope. Up next are the Philadelphia Flyers, the Olympic break and then back to the business of pushing his standards ever higher.
His on-ice progression speaks for itself.
And his attitude? His professionalism?
After the last couple of rumor-fuelled days, even if he doesn’t know a double salchow from a triple lutz, gold-medal scores on all the judges’ cards.
Follow George Johnson on Twitter/Georgejohnson
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