ST. LOUIS – There’s no doubt in the mind of St. Louis Blues captain David Backes that he would not be a professional hockey player if he had not grown up in Minnesota.
That’s why playing the Wild on Hockey Day Minnesota was special to the Blaine native.
“Once I could finally skate, my buddies and I would bring our skates and sticks to school and go right to the outdoor rink after,” Backes said. “We’d play every single day ’til our parents came and got us. That’s what we did to bond, and that’s really where you fall in love with the game — when you’re out there with your toes frozen, your hands frozen, but you don’t care and don’t want to go inside.
“All the way through middle school, I’d go to the rink, my parents would come and get me for dinner, I’d do homework, go to bed and repeat it the next day.”
Backes, who attended Spring Lake Park High and Minnesota State Mankato, where he played for three years and ultimately returned to get his degree, was a multisport athlete. His father, Steve, grew up playing baseball. His mother, Karen, had no connection to hockey.
“So if I don’t grow up in Minnesota, I don’t think I ever make the transition from baseball season to a kid trying to learn how to skate,” Backes said. “You have to start somewhere, and Minnesota was that place for me.”
In high school, Backes was a “decent player, but I don’t think I was ever anything special. There were always guys better than me probably on my team and most definitely on other teams we were playing.
“It was one of those things where I played, I had fun, but I didn’t expect to play college hockey or pro hockey.”
But he started to grow, and that’s when Mankato called. Initially, Backes’ only goal was to get a free education.
“I wasn’t sitting there on signing day with 15 schools to choose from by any means,” Backes said.
That’s why Backes remains loyal to the Mavericks. He has donated money to build a strength and conditioning room, and has donated money to a youth hockey association in Mankato.
“I know what it meant to my life going to school in Mankato as a person and student-athlete,” he said. “They showed a lot of loyalty to me. Before anyone else, they put their necks on the line to offer me a scholarship.”
Drafted by the Blues in the second round in 2003, the hard-nosed Backes has played 703 games, scoring 197 goals and 443 points. He has 12 goals and 28 points in 55 games this season and the All-Star break was a godsend because he had been playing hurt.
He’s 31 and in the final year of his contract and hopes to remain in St. Louis. But after last season’s third consecutive first-round exit (the latest was to the Wild), his future is up in the air.
“There’s definitely desire from me to stay and I think the team wants me back, but there’s a business side that needs to be hammered out and it’s got to make sense for both sides and the direction the team is going and the direction I’d like to go,” Backes said. “We’ll see how it sorts itself out. It’s not done. There’s plenty of hockey to be played and hopefully a great result in the postseason makes everybody happy around here.”