NHL blog: Nicklas Bäckström

RP @ NHL Blog Central

The Finnish journalist takes a road trip to see a young Swedish star at home one last time.

Hello, I must be going

I want to say that I saw the future of hockey last night. Like when Jon Landau saw Bruce Springsteen and wrote the legendary – beyond legendary – description about him: “I saw rock ‘n’ roll future and its name is Bruce Springsteen.”

I traveled to Gävle last Thursday to see Sweden play against Russia so that I could come back and tell you that I had seen hockey’s future.

“And its name is Nicklas Bäckström,” I would say.

And all the Minnesota Wild fans would read it and think I’m a genius. And when this other Nicklas Bäckström would become a superstar in five years, everybody else would agree: I am a genius.

Nobody remembers the failed predictions because they’re just not interesting. Everybody can do that.

So, I picked up Martin, my photographer and designer buddy, and we drove the 120 miles north of Stockholm to see Nicklas Bäckström, 19, play his last game at the Läkerol Arena.

Next fall, Bäckström moves to Washington DC.

It’s kind of funny. At the beginning of last season, Bäckström was slated as maybe the third center in Brynäs, the same Gävle club his father played with in the 1970s. The team’s coach, Leif Boork (whose crew cut some of you may remember from the 1984 Canada Cup) showed the Brynäs players what tough love means, kicking a few off the team, giving more ice time to those who delivered regardless of their age or how much they talk, and before you could say Nicklas Bäckström, Nicklas Bäckström was their main man.

Fast forward to last Thursday and see 7,000 people seeing him off to the NHL.

“NI-CKLAS BÄCK-STRÖM! NI-CKLAS BÄCK-STRÖM! NI-CKLAS BÄCK-STRÖM! shouted a group of hardcore fans from the designated cheering section, with standing room only.

The four Russian fans in the section next to them didn’t react.

In the first period, Bäckström rushed the puck into the Russian zone. The fans saw their chance.


And when he picked up an assist on Alex Steen’s goal?


On the ice, in the game, there is no such thing as age. Only players. Bäckström plays maturely, and shows what I interpret as signs of young age only once. He flips a nice pass right to Steen who shoots, but misses. Bäckström skates back to the bench, and twirls his stick a couple of times so that his blade looks like a propeller.

After the game, everybody wants to talk to him.

Bäckström smiles, like a teenage kid trying not to. His blond hair curls from underneath the helmet as he tells everybody that if felt “a little strange” to think it might have been his last game at the arena, at least for a while. Like fifteen years (barring a lockout that would bring all the stars back home).

Just as one of the reporters asked him about his NHL plans, and just as Bäckström had said he had a long way to go – “first I need to sign a contract, then take a spot on the roster” – a group of fans showed up above the mixed zone where the interviews took place.


Bäckström smiled, and waved a little. It was bigger than a royal wave, but not a Nixonian farewell. Something in-between. On Wednesday, Bäckström takes on Team USA in Stockholm. That may be his last game in Sweden for quite some time. Maybe he’ll wave more then.

The fans were young. Maybe 20, 21, 22. Only three years older than Bäckström. Maybe later last night they all sat at Max, the local burger joint and ate a Brynäs meal.

Bäckström seems so … nice. So good. So wholesome. So down-to-earth, and just so perfect.

It’s a long way from Gävle to Washington DC. In fact, when I checked the Google Maps to see just how far, I saw this:

53. Take the ramp onto Quai Frissard.
54. At the roundabout, take the 4th exit onto E05, 2 mins.
55. Swim across the Atlantic Ocean 5,572 km 29 days 0 hours.
56. Turn left at Long Wharf 0.2 km.

Swim? Well, if anybody can do that, Nicklas Bäckström can.

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