By Michael Russo
Just got off the phone with Niklas Backstrom, who infuriated me because he was sitting by the pool at the Palms.
Tough life, pal. Me, I just walked the Stone Arch Bridge. Nice, but not the same.
Backstrom’s jacked to be in Vegas, where I gave him some advice on must-see’s, like the “Love” Beatles’ Cirque du Soleil show at the Mirage. He’s a Beatles fan, as his girlfriend, Heidi. I gave him some other advice, too.
He’ll be up for the Vezina (Best Goalie) on Thursday night’s NHL Awards Show, which can be seen on VERSUS at 6:30 p.m. He’s a finalist with Boston’s Tim Thomas and Columbus’ Steve Mason. At the Show with Bax offering him support so to speak will be Heidi, Wild goalie coach Bob Mason, GM Chuck Fletcher and P.R. guru Ryan Stanzel — yes the same Stanzel who constructs the famed R.S.S. Feed on the Wild’s web site.
I talked to Backstrom about a variety of things that you’ll see in future sports sections, but here’s a few quotes I’ll offer up now.
On Vegas, Awards Show: “I haven’t been here before. Just to be part of it, it’s going to be one of the biggest days of your career personally. You never know if you ever get the chance to do it again. It really kicks in when you get here and you see all the guys – you know all these stars – and posters all over the city. I’ve never seen the Awards Show before. I don’t know how big it is. But when you get here, you start to feel it’s a pretty big thing.”
What do you think of Vegas: “I cant complain about the weather.”
How’s the surgically-repaired hip: “I feel really good actually. I’m going to see the doctor on Monday. I fly from here to Vail. I’m excited to see him there because it feels so good. I’ve never looked so forward to a doctors appointment before. Hopefully I’ll get permission to go full.
Nervous about being on camera and the Vezina? “Every athlete, you want to win. But when you go to a normal hockey game, you feel more that you want to win. It’s a great honor just to be here. You look at all the goalies, there’s only three who will be here tomorrow, but you look around the league, you could easily take 20, 30 goalies. So for sure it’s a great honor to even be here. Just looking back to where I have come from. Couple years ago, I played in Europe, and now you’re here up for such an award. I don’t want to say it’s enough. You want to be the best everyday and all the time. But it’s really good even to be here.”
Richards says the D will be running wild. Does that concern you? ”My job is going to be the same – stop the puck. If we win, it doesn’t matter how you play. That’s the only thing you’re concerned about – to win. If you’ve got a system that all the players believe in, and everybody really jumps into that, then every system is good. You look the way hockey is played now, you look at the good teams who were in the Final, even if they play some offensive hockey, I think everything starts from the defense. Even if it would be fun to have the 80s and 90s Edmonton Oilers here and score six, seven goals, I don’t think it’s possible in today’s NHL. So I think you can have a good offense, but everything still starts from the defense. Like I said, it doesn’t matter how we play, the only thing that matters is that we win.
You could be facing a few more odd-man rushes, but are you willing to give that up if it means you won’t have to be holding onto tie or one-goal games anymore? “It’s part of hockey. You have to live with that. You can’t worry about it. You have to make sure you’re ready for whatever happens. Goalies, we have to be there, we have to help the guys if that’s the case. On the other hand, if we play more offense, score more goals, maybe every now and then our goalies can make a mistake and we have a chance to win. So there’s some good and some bad things with every style. The only thing that matters is that you play good hockey. Then that gives you a chance to win.”
Backstrom and a number of Wild players — and 120 NHLers — will be in Vegas the rest of the week for union meetings. General membership meetings start Friday. There will also be a golf tourney that day. Wild players scheduled to partake are Josh Harding, James Sheppard and Krys Kolanos, and former Wild center Todd White as well. Oh, and retired Wild player and FSN North superstar Darby Hendrickson.
Derek Boogaard is currently “fighting” the competition committee on the future of fighting in the game, and Boogaard’s under strict instructions to call me immediately AFTER the meeting and BEFORE he goes out and enjoys Vegas.
We’ll see if he obeys.
Also, as reported by the Houston Chronicle here , Houston Aeros coach Kevin Constantine and his staff will return to the Aeros next season. I’ve confirmed with GM Chuck Fletcher. This was a good decision. They do a great job down there, and made it to the AHL’s Final Four this year.
OK, talk to you later.