The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Sports

September 19, 2012

Frederick: NHL players wise to have Backes out front

— Anyone who has followed the Minnesota State men’s hockey team over the last decade knows how bright David Backes is.

The former Mavericks captain who now wears the “C” for the St. Louis Blues received almost as much noteriety for his smarts during three years at MSU as he did for his skills on the ice. And he was named an All-American after his final season.

As a student, Backes had a 4.0 grade-point average in electrical engineering. He talked at the time about going to law school after his eventual retirement from hockey and becoming a patent lawyer.

Between 2003 and 2006, if you were in Mankato and looking for a role model for your youth hockey player — or any sport — Backes easily was your guy.

Backes has been out of college for seven years, but he hasn’t been forgotten. Current MSU players are now reminded of him each and every practice, as a larger-than-life mural of Backes (as well as Stanley Cup-winner Ryan Carter) adorns one of the walls of the Don Brose Hockey Center and overlooks the Olympic-sized ice sheet at All Seasons Arena.

He’s a pretty good role model for those guys, too.

The Blues and the National Hockey League Players Association have figured out that Backes — along with his brains and blooming star status in St. Louis — is a pretty good face to have out in public.

This summer, Backes was named to the NHLPA’s negotiating committee that worked on the collective-bargaining talks between the players and NHL owners.

No agreement was reached by the end of last week, and the owners locked out the players Saturday night.

Since then, some star players, including Sidney Crosby and Jonathan Toews, released a video on YouTube, speaking directly to hockey fans, who are nervous about their favorite sport going away for who knows how long. The message is that they want nothing more than to strike a fair deal and get back out on the ice.

Backes is an integral part of that video.

Backes reminisces about the joy of playing outdoor hockey, “going out there playing until your toes are numb and you’ve got to go inside and let them thaw out. And then you’re right back out there.”

“Yeah, it is unfortunate that the business side of the game has gotten in the way of playing the game and doing what we all love to do,” he said.

In St. Louis, Backes and his wife, Kelly (also a former MSU student), are known for their work with animal shelters and saving neglected pets.

Sounds like the right person to be out front in trying to save the upcoming season. And if he’s successful, that should come as no surprise to the people of Mankato.

Shane Frederick is a Free Press staff writer. Read his blog at mankatofreepresshockey.blogspot.com, and follow him on Twitter @puckato.

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