Nov 01, 2012
Blues team captain David Backes stands firm on and off the ice.
Story: Amy De La Hunt
Photos: Wesley Law
YOU MIGHT NOT THINK a hockey player with more than 200 hits a season would be anyone’s first choice to lock horns with National Hockey League owners across a negotiating table.
Backes’ cover shoot and interview with ALIVE fell just two days after the news broke in September that the NHL was, in fact, facing another lockout. The turn of events could not have come at a worse time for Backes’ Blues, who were finally getting back in their groove, having made the second round of the playoffs last spring. Their sweep by the Los Angeles Kings, the eventual Stanley Cup winners, left “a sour taste in our mouths all summer,” Backes says. The team has something to prove; it doesn’t matter that they were Central Division champions, finishing ahead of nemeses Chicago, Detroit and Nashville. A repeat of the 2004-2005 season-killing lockout would be crushing. (As of press time, a new proposal from the owners was on the table, bringing a glimpse of hope to fans.)
Backes spent his summer fanning the flames of desire among his teammates, while also flying to New York, Toronto and Chicago as part of the players’ union negotiating team to talk revenue splits, salary caps and floors, guaranteed contracts and other divisive topics with the owners. And he still managed to take a road trip from his Clayton home for some downtime in Minnesota to fish and hang out with his wife, Kelly, and their beloved rescue pets.
Blues fans voted No. 42 their favorite player for a second year, and after spending the day with him for the photo shoot, we can certainly understand why. Despite news of the lockout, Backes kept his cool, often joking with the staff and effortlessly playing the handsome, heroic type while posing high on a rooftop overlooking the city. It’s no secret the guy is seriously tough—he didn’t miss any of the 82 games last season, and his goal-scoring prowess tied him for most points on the team with T.J. Oshie, his wingman on the first line. If there’s any doubt that Backes isn’t the exact right person to represent the Blues at the negotiating table—well, just put us in the penalty box.
ALIVE: Why did you decide to volunteer for the negotiating team?
David Backes: It’s my profession and my career. I’d like to be informed. And it’s an amazing learning experience. You’re in the room with some of the most brilliant people in the world, the billionaire owners; they’re obviously really successful.
ALIVE: What’s the atmosphere like?
DB: They’re pretty casual until you start talking about the core economic stuff—how you’re going to split up the $3.3 billion industry.
ALIVE: Some of your fellow negotiators are also from the Blues, like Jamie Langenbrunner and Kevin Shattenkirk. Is the Blues owner, Tom Stillman, on the opposite side of the table?
DB: He is not on their negotiating team. I actually think [having him there] could lead to more of an understanding. The guys from [other teams] probably have a tough time relating to the way things have been in St. Louis for the past five-plus years.
ALIVE: As captain, you have team responsibilities during the lockout, too, like lining up ice time for practices.
DB: You don’t know how good it is with the support staff—you just show up and do your thing. Now, the small things and the bigger things are all on us.
ALIVE: What’s the team like right now?
DB: There’s probably about half the team in town, maybe another quarter that stay in their own towns and stay in shape there, and then maybe a quarter more that have found another team in the meantime, in Europe or Russia. They’re ready, so they can play and have a paycheck. They’re technically no longer under contract at the moment.
ALIVE: What’s it like playing for the Blues?
DB: I love it! They’re the team that drafted me [in 2003]. I don’t know anything else, and I hope not to find out. I’m from Minneapolis, so the Midwest pace of life is really not an adjustment at all. [But now,] when we go home to that cold climate, it’s like, “Get me out of here and back to St. Louis!”
ALIVE: Did you play pond hockey growing up?
DB: Yeah, I started skating when I was 5. We’d have an outdoor rink set up where they’d just go out with a fire hose and fill it. Me and my friends would go out there and play on it until our feet got numb, then sit down and let them thaw out and burn for a while, and then go back out there and do it again, because it’s so much fun.
ALIVE: You played for the University of Minnesota-Mankato, a young program, before joining the Blues. Was it kind of the same up-and-coming team experience?
DB: They were on the bottom when I came after the lockout in ’05. I think they’d lost 11 in a row when I got called up and came to the rink with 12,000 fans in the stands. It was pretty bleak. I could have worn my jersey down the street and no one would have known. Having the success last year and the excitement around town was really an encouraging sign. Now, I get a lot of kids asking for my autograph. I was in Disney World, and a couple of little kids came up and asked if I was David.
ALIVE: Who were your mentors during the early years with the Blues?
DB: Well, Keith Tkachuk let me live in his basement for the first half of the year. He was always a favorite—someone you idolize, and now you’re having dinner with him. It was pretty awesome. I learned a lot from him, Dallas Drake and Doug Weight. They went out of their way to be kind and give advice. Keith Tkachuk lived every minute to set himself up for the next practice or game... those kinds of things stuck with me.
ALIVE: You also have a softer side with your support of rescue animals. How many pets do you have?
DB: We have four dogs (Rodney, Marty, Rosey and BB) and two cats (Sunny and Polly, short for Polydactyl). We’re one big, happy family.
ALIVE: Is your wife from Minnesota, too?
DB: Yes, we went to kindergarten together. It’s one of those sappy stories. We started dating in high school...got engaged in 2006 at Christmas, and I got called up for my first NHL game the next day—so she tries to take credit for that, too!
ALIVE: What do you do to get away from hockey?
DB: I like to keep my mind going. I got my pilot’s license last year. I did it all during the season. With the chaos of the rink, it’s kind of nice to go up where no one can get in touch with you. It’s good to decompress.
ALIVE: How many broken bones have you had?
DB: I broke my right big toe four years ago, and my left big toe two years ago.
ALIVE: Not even your nose?
DB: Well, that’s cartilage. I got to play against Mike Modano (one of my favorite players), and he knocked out half of my front teeth-but better him than someone else.
ALIVE: Have you thought about what you’ll do on your day with the Stanley Cup when the Blues win their first championship?
DB: Many times. I’d probably go fishing with it. Maybe put a fish in it!
Hair by Kristen Linares, kristenlinares.com
Makeup by Alison Silvagnoli Hampton, facebook.com/MakeupByAlison
Photography Assistant: Joe Nuelle
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