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|David Backes is just one of several players who have a shot to play in the 2010 Olympic Games (Getty Images). |
NEW YORK -- David Backes
donned a Team USA jersey and stepped onto the ice. He grabbed a stick and slid a puck back and forth to a couple of guys with Olympic hockey experience before returning to solid ground to talk with reporters and a few fans.
The St. Louis Blues forward is hoping the next time he wears the red, white and blue, it will be during 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver instead of at an Olympic kickoff party at Rockefeller Center in Manhattan.
The USOC held a celebration Wednesday to commemorate the Games' 100-day countdown, and Backes was on hand along with former Olympians Mike Eruzione, Jim Craig and Steve Janaszak to take part in a hockey clinic and make an appearance on NBC's "Today" show.
It's been easy for Backes and other Olympic team candidates to say they aren't focused on earning a trip to Vancouver. But it's not as easy when you're walking around in a Team USA jersey, even if it's only for a promotional appearance.
It's one of those things where you have the jersey on and it feels good," said Backes, who was one of 34 Americans at the U.S. Olympic orientation camp in August. "You're hoping that you're doing the right things on the ice to get a spot on that team and represent our country at the Olympics."
The Minneapolis native has been doing just that during his career. The 25-year-old had a standout season in 2008-09 with a career-high 31 goals, and he's increased his goal totals from 10 to 13 to 31 after breaking into the League in 2006-07.
Backes, however, has had trouble finding the back of the net this season. In 13 games, he had just 1 goal and 1 assist, but he's not the least bit worried about a poor first few games affecting his chances of making the U.S. Olympic roster.
"I think if you watch our games, if I was playing horribly and had 1 goal you'd say something's wrong with me," Backes said. "I'm getting chances and I'm putting the work in and it's just a matter of finishing a few of those and getting on a roll."
It also helps when Brian Burke, the general manager of Team USA, is heaping high praise on you.
When discussing how he wanted to build an edgier, grittier team for the 2010 Games, Burke mentioned Backes as an example of the type of player Team USA needs. Those words meant a lot to Backes.
"It was nice, obviously, when the guy picking the team has your name on his lips, it's a good feeling," Backes said. "I think it's more of a testament to how I've been playing and the hard work I've put in. If it's numbers it's one thing, but I think he recognizes there's a little bit of versatility and ability. There's a ton of talent going to be on that team. If he needs a couple guys who are going to go out there and provide energy and kill penalties or do some of the smaller, role things, I'm hoping that's what he sees."
The appearance at Rockefeller Center wasn't the first time Backes has worn a Team USA jersey. He's answered the call to play in the World Championships twice before -- in 2007 and 2008 -- and that international experience is something he feels is important.
"Not just experience as far as international play," Backes said, "but dealing with (U.S. coach) Ron Wilson, (assistants) John Tortorella and Scott Gordon, and Brian Burke. It's getting your nose in there, getting recognized and making sure they're all seeing what you can do."
Backes still has two months to impress Burke enough to get his name on the U.S. team's roster. In the meantime, he'll be working on the balance of focusing on his game with the St. Louis Blues and the occasional chattering in his locker room about the Olympics.
"Rarely," Backes said if he and fellow U.S. team candidates Keith Tkachuk and T.J. Oshie
talk about the Olympics. "We're pretty focused on game-to-game as far as what we're doing in St. Louis. But there's always that American-Canadian-European rival in the locker room giving guys grief and we stick together through that. Everyone is giving everyone grief in our locker room.
"It's a fun atmosphere."
The same can be said for what it will be like in Vancouver in February 2010.