Updated: Backlund signs two-month deal with Swedish Elite League club
Flames forward got tired of waiting for labour impasse to pass
The itch to play games became impossible to ignore.
So, desperate for that scratch, Mikael Backlund, with his girlfriend and their two dogs, leaves this morning for Sweden where he’ll shortly suit up for Vasteras.
The Calgary Flames centreman hasn’t played since hurting his shoulder in a mid-season fight with Andrew Alberts of the Vancouver Canucks. And the National Hockey League lockout — which has forced the cancellation of the regular season’s opening two weeks — was further lengthening his spell of inactivity.
Meaning Backlund was antsy.
The solution is signing a two-month deal with Vasteras, his hometown club, which competes in the Allsvenskan, one notch below the elite league.
After dressing for only 41 dates last winter, the 23-year-old can’t wait.
“It’s going to be fun to play,” Backlund said after Thursday morning’s practice at WinSport’s Ice Complex. “I was trying to stay patient because you want things to happen here first, but it doesn’t look good. It’s just not going to help me to stay here. I need to play — I haven’t played since Feb. 11. That’s a long time without games. After the season, mentally it’s good to get away from hockey. But it’s been way too long now.
“I’ve been restless so many nights. We’re used to playing almost every night of the week. You get pretty bored after a while. I love watching hockey, too, so I miss watching games. I’m a big hockey fan myself. Even though I was hurt a lot last year, I was watching games at least — that’s more fun than not watching at all.
“It’s unfortunate it’s not starting on time.”
When asked if Jiri Hudler’s plight — the Flames forward is sidelined after suffering an abdominal injury in the KHL — had given him pause, Backlund shook his head.
“I know the risks,” he said. “I could pull a groin here, I could fall into the boards here. Anything could happen here — it’s high speed. You’ve got to take the risk and go play. That’ll help me more than just practising. I’m making the decision that I think will be best for my hockey. If something bad happens . . . you can’t regret anything.”
Nor is he concerned about shoving other puck-chasers to the unemployment line.
“Obviously, guys that are not going to be able to play won’t be too happy, but I can’t say that I feel bad,” said Backlund, who becomes the fourth member of the Flames — after Roman Cervenka, Anton Babchuk and Hudler — to skate in Europe this season. “Everyone knew this was coming. It’s part of the job, you know. You can never be sure of a job — same with me. Young guys could come and take my spot here.
“That’s how it works in this business — you’re just a number.”
Meanwhile, the usual suspects are keeping busy.
Under the whip of Calgary Dinos skipper Mark Howell, 16 players, most of them members of the Flames, skated. And skated. And skated.
Thursday’s session finished with a puck-less stretch of huffing and puffing — on Day 19 of the lockout.
“We’ve got a group of guys that are working hard every day,” said Derek Smith. “So when the season does start, we’re ready. Hopefully, we’ll be ahead of everyone else. We’re professionals here — like anyone else or any other profession — you’ve got to be ready when you’re called upon.”
Smith certainly didn’t have this headache during the 2004-05 lockout. As a freshman at Lake Superior State University, fallout was minimal.
“You turn on Hockey Night in Canada on Saturdays. If it’s not there, you find something else to do.”
Follow Scott Cruickshank on Twitter/CruickshankCH
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