2014 Winter Olympics Interviews: David Backes, US Men's Hockey
The 2010 US Men's Hockey team was an overtime goal away from winning America's first hockey gold medal since 1980. But the puck didn't bounce the Americans' way, and they went home with the silver medal — a great achievement in its own right.
St. Louis Blues captain David Backes was a member of the 2010 team, and he'll be a part of the squad that heads to Sochi in February. Sports Illustrated Kids spoke with Backes in December about playing for his country, what it would mean to make a second Olympic team (the interview was conducted before the final roster was announced), and the experience of getting so close to a gold medal.
What did it mean to you as a hockey player and as an American to play in the 2010 Games?
It was a humbling experience, to represent my country on such a large scale and to be recognized as one of the best 23 American-born hockey players. It’s something that I never fathomed in my wildest dreams, and, you know, I still don’t maybe necessarily see myself as that. But it’s pretty honorable to have that mention. To come to the realization that I am seen as one of the top 25 or 23 players of American descent was just something I never thought would even be possible.
How far it would go for it to be real for you if you were named to a second team?
Maybe to reemphasize that I belong there, that would be a pretty cool notion. On top of that, I think the group of guys who were there in Vancouver feel we’ve got some unfinished business and how far we came in that tournament and then to go into overtime in the gold-medal game and not come away with the gold medal, I think there’s a fire burning in each one of us.
I’m glad you brought that up, because I wanted to ask what playing in that game was like, especially those last few minutes.
I had a pretty good seat from the bench to watch it, but you could tell… We scored the goal, or Zach Parise scored the goal, with less than a minute left and we had tons of momentum and going into overtime, we had to relax and not be too excited. Go in there and play our game. You never know what’s going to happen in overtime. And a couple good chances either way, and the puck goes into the net and you can’t believe that it’s over. We came all that way and bonded together as a group and didn’t get that gold we were striving for.
I’m assuming it’s pretty different, but how different is playing an overtime game like that versus one in the playoffs or just in the NHL?
Well, the fact that it’s one game, winner takes all, loser goes home, I guess there’s two ways to look at it. There’s one where, you know, it’s chance because it’s do or die and there’s no game two or game four. Maybe it’s close to a Game 7. In the playoffs, there’s also no consolation prize. You either won the Cup or you came short of winning the Cup. I have a silver medal that I’m very, very proud of. I’d like it to be gold, but it’s a very prized possession of mine.
What do you think the chances of a US-Canada gold-medal rematch are?
Well, history shows that playing on the big ice, playing in Europe or Russia, the North American teams haven’t fared so well. So we’re fighting against that. We’re trying come up with some of the reasons why those struggles have happened and how we can counteract them. It’s a tall task, but there’s great players on every team that’s going to be there and you have emerging teams like Switzerland, who was in the gold-medal game in the last world championships, and Finland and Sweden are always good. Canada, US, Russia is going to be good. So for me, it’s just as deep and as competitive an Olympics as we’ve ever seen, and it’s going to be a great tournament. And like I said, it’s a short time period where the best team at the time is going to win, going to get hot, the best goalie can carry you through a couple of rounds, you never know. It can sway things either way in a heartbeat.
What’s the experience like playing against your teammates in the Olympics?
I haven’t had that opportunity yet. Last Olympics, Erik Johnson and I were both on Team USA and the other two reps were Roman Polak and Jarolsav Halak, and we didn’t play either of them. So I haven’t had that opportunity, but we got that over with at the beginning of the year. We’ll be St. Louis Blues up until the time we land in Russia, and we’re not holding anything back when we’re there, and we’ll be teammates again when we land back in the US.
How does playing in the Olympics impact your NHL game once you get back into the season?
I don’t know how much it affects it. For me, it’s a bit of confidence booster that you were able to represent your country and you play on that big stage and you feel ready for whatever the NHL season’s going to throw at you, that you’re prepared for it, and that you’re one of the elite players and able to make plays. And that helps me a bit. I think we saw that a little bit after the 2010 Olympics when I got back.
Have you ever played in Russia, or do you know anything about Sochi?
I played in the World Championships, maybe in 2007, in Moscow. But I’m not sure what Sochi’s like. I know it’s on the Black Sea and a very popular tourist town and to get to the skiing and things is like a 45-minute train ride to get up to the mountain village. Outside of that, it’s going to be a new experience for everyone there, and we’ve got to take the good with the bad and the bad with the good and try to accommodate our way of life into however we’re taken care of there. But it seems like Russia’s spared no expense and pretty much built this area just for the Olympics. It should be top of the line.
I saw there’s a Facebook page, David Backes for Captain of the US team. What do you think the chances of that are going to be?
Heh. I don’t know who started that, but that would be another feather in your cap. But I’ve said all along, we’ve got maybe five or six guys who are great leaders in the NHL that when we get to Sochi it’s going to take everyone buying in together and leading by a committee rather than one guy trying to carry everyone or trying to fulfill that role. So if I do get that honor, I’d be humbled beyond belief. But if a guy like Zach Parise or Ryan Suter or [Ryan] Callahan or Dustin Brown get it, that’s fine and good by me. They’ll do a great job, and I’ll do everything I can to support them.
In the locker room, you’ve got all these guys who are captains or leaders on their teams and now they’re all in one place together. Does it make it a little easier or more difficult to come together like that, at least maybe in the beginning?
I think it depends on which guys you’re talking about. I think in 2010 we had a lot of character guys that said, “You know what? I may have this role on my team, but if this is what helps us be the most successful I’m fine doing it. If it’s playing less, if it’s not playing at all, if it’s playing more, if it’s playing in different roles or different positions.” That was one of our strengths in 2010, and we expect the same sort of blue-collar, whatever’s-best-for-the-team attitude here.
For more coverage of the 2014 Winter Olympics and interviews with Olympians, check out Sports Illustrated Kids' Guide to the Games!
This interview was edited and condensed for clarity and space.
Photos: Harry How/Getty Images, David E. Klutho/Sports Illustrated