Tired of hearing about the bad guys in sports? The selfish guys? The cheaters?
Tired of Richie Incognito? Dez Bryant? Alex Rodriguez?
Looking for a role model? A guy who works hard? A guy who cares?
Oh there’s a guy. And if you’ve been a hockey fan in Mankato for the last 10 years or so, you’ve probably seen him play in person. You might even know him a little.
David Backes is one of those guys.
Backes, who played for Minnesota State from 2003 to 2006, is now in his eighth season with the NHL’s St. Louis Blues and is having another outstanding season. The Blues’ captain is averaging a point a game right now and has his team tied with the Minnesota Wild in the Western Conference’s Central Division. He appears to be on his way to earning a spot on the U.S. Olympic team next February. Backes played for the silver medal-winning team four years ago as well.
Off the ice, Backes is making a big impact as well.
He and his wife, Kelly (also a Minnesota State alum) are heavily involved in animal-rescue and pet-adoption causes. Backes has his pilot’s license and flies around the country to move animals out of overcrowded shelters. On Sunday night, the couple launched a new foundation, Athletes for Animals, to help further that cause.
Backes has also impacted the lives of people and kids, kids right here in Mankato, his old stompin’ grounds for three years.
Just before the hockey season began, he donated the equivalent of $24,000 in new hockey gear to the Mankato Area Hockey Association (MAHA). The gear came just in time for MAHA’s participation in the national Try Hockey For Free day on Nov. 2. Officials said that 91 kids participated in the event, more than double last year’s turnout.
“Without that donation, I don’t know what we would have done,” said Jim Steiert, MAHA vice president and fundraising chair. “It was complete pandemonium on the ice. It was the greatest thing I’ve ever seen.”
Try Hockey For Free participants who signed up for the season were supplied with new gear they can use for the year, and MAHA was also able to replenish its equipment room with up-to-date supplies.
“It’s a struggle to get some kids outfitted,” Steiert said. “That’s part of the experience.”
According to the MAHA website (mankatohockey.com), they ordered 150 sticks, 70 pairs of skates, 60 helmets, 60 pairs of gloves, six full sets of goaltending gear, 1,000 pucks and more from the hockey company Bauer with Backes’ donation.
Steiert said Backes donated $12,000 in Bauer gear but at cost. It would have cost the association double that amount to purchase all of that equipment on its own.
So when you hear about the locker room problems of the Miami Dolphins, the dysfunctional relationships of the Dallas Cowboys or the not-so-natural performance of a whole bunch of baseball players, don’t completely dismiss the modern-day pro athlete. Think about David Backes and know that there are a few good guys still out there.
Shane Frederick is a Free Press staff writer. Read his blog at mankatofreepresshockey.blogspot.com and follow him on Twitter @puckato.