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A Dream Come True

by Chris Pinkert / St. Louis Blues
 The Olympians
Erik Johnson

Although David Backes, Erik Johnson and Roman Polak have played for their countries in international tournaments, none of them have competed for Olympic gold medals. That all changes when the puck drops in Vancouver beginning Feb. 16 (Getty Images).

  Olympics: Complete Blues Coverage
  US GM Burke: David Backes | Erik Johnson
  Team Rosters: United States | Czech Republic
As a little boy growing up in Minnesota, David Backes remembers dreaming of a day when he would represent his country at the Winter Olympic Games. So if you’re watching as he skates onto the ice Tuesday for Team USA’s opening game against Switzerland…watch closely.

You might just see him pinch himself.

“I never thought I’d play in the NHL,” Backes said. “Things sort of fall into place with hard work and continuing to do the right thing. Good things keep happening for me.”

This isn’t just a dream anymore…it’s a dream come true. And it’s a moment worth pausing for, just to take it all in.

Like the chill of the ice surface. The sound of nearly 20,000 fans, some cheering for him, some against him. The sight of the Olympic rings. The knowledge that the entire world is watching his every move.

“Obviously, there was a big smile on my face and I was honored that I was selected,” Backes said shortly after learning he’d wear the time-honored red, white and blue at this year’s games. “It’s something I went and worked for over the past year to impress people at different levels. It’s become a reality and now it’s time to continue towards working for a medal in Vancouver.”

Brian Burke, the general manager of Team USA, said choosing Backes was a no-brainer.

"To me, David Backes is a self-made hockey player. He's worked his tail off to get where he is and he does lots of things well. He was a lock," Burke said. "We went to David well in advance of the team being made and told him we're counting on him."

Backes won’t have to chase down the Olympic glory alone.

Fellow teammate and Minnesota-native Erik Johnson will be right there with him, trying to help the United States win a Gold Medal in ice hockey for the first time since 1980 when an underdog group of U.S. born college players upset the heavy-favorite Soviet team. Although it happened before both Backes and Johnson were born, they wouldn’t mind experiencing something similar.

“It’s the 30th anniversary since that happened, so it’s a pretty big deal,” said Johnson, who says he’s inpired every time he watches “Miracle,” a movie based on America’s victory in 1980. “Hopefully we can duplicate it and win a gold medal.”

"What do I like about (Erik Johnson)? That's easy. Everything," Burke said. "I think that the sky is the limit for this young man. People in St. Louis are aware of what a complete player he is, but I think the hockey world is going to see that now. He's big, he can skate, he's a great kid and he's got a hard shot."

Both Blues will be surrounded by incredible American born talent: Zach Parise and Jamie Langenbrunner of the New Jersey Devils, Bobby Ryan of the Anaheim Ducks, Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks…and that’s just to name a few.

David Backes competes against Sweden at the IIHF World Championship tournament last summer (Getty Images).
“It’s a well-constructed team, plenty of balance of skill and strength, energy, puck movers and grinders,” Backes said.

Added Johnson, “I think it’s a great team. Nobody’s betting any money on us to win it, but we’re going there to win and I think we have a team to do it. Anything can happen.”

Blues defenseman Roman Polak will also play in Vancouver for the Czech Republic and is looking forward to the experience. His club, which features Jaromir Jagr, Patrick Elias, Martin Havlat to name a few, will open play against Slovakia on Wednesday.

"Every professional hockey player wants to play in the Olympics and play for his country," Polak said. "It's a dream come true."

And for three guys who have worked hard to give themselves a career at the NHL level, playing for their country is a memory they won't forget any time soon.

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