Backes, instead, decided the next best thing would be to volunteer at the local animal shelter. So during his three years at Minnesota State University-Mankato, he spent time scooping out litter boxes and cleaning kennels.
It was the beginning of what has become a vital part of his off-ice life.
Backes is a passionate animal advocate, who after beginning his NHL career wanted to use his voice and influence towards a great cause by founding Athletes for Animals, which rescues and protects the welfare of homeless pets.
So it was fitting that the 32-year-old forward – who has four dogs and two cats at home – made his first official appearance as a member of the Boston Bruins at the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals-Angell Animal Medical Center in Jamaica Plain on Wednesday afternoon.
Backes, along with his wife Kelly and young daughter Stella, toured the facility and met with a number of animals and MSPCA employees, before addressing the Boston media for the first time.
“It’s awesome to see that there’s such great work going on – and you know it’s going on country-wide,” said Backes, who was making his debut wearing the Spoked-B jersey after signing a five-year contract with the Bruins on July 1.
“But to get a tour of the facility like this, you see the expansion, the growth in the past few years…It gives you a warm feeling inside and really makes us feel like we’re part of the city already, that we could come here and bring a little attention to the great work that they’re doing.
“Hopefully, this will just be the beginning to us connecting with the community and helping serve the people that are great fans of the Bruins, that are going to watch us every night and watch us into a deep playoff run year after year.”
Backes has been in town for the last few days to get a feel for Boston and search for a new home. It is the first extended period of time he has spent in Boston, after only having been here for the occasional road game with St. Louis.
“With the reception that I’ve had for the three, four weeks that I’ve been a Boston Bruin, you can tell that there’s some passion and tons of people here that just yearn for another Cup, even though it was just five years ago there was a parade here,” said Backes.
“That’s why I came here because you see the vision, you see the love for the team, and I want to be a part of that.”
Backes believes it is part of his duty as a professional athlete to become a part of the community he plays in, while bringing attention and support to worthy causes.
“I think it was part of the reason that we loved St. Louis so much is that we connected with the community and connected with the people,” said Backes. “We took the professional athlete persona, threw that away and got our hands dirty with helping out and trying to make where we were a better place than when we found it.
“If we can help a few animals get adopted or shed some light onto the availability of adoptable animals and connect with the community in tons of ways…We want to be a part of that and really engross ourselves.”
And, of course, another way to engrain yourself into the fabric of Boston and New England is a trip to Fenway Park. Backes did just that, throwing out the ceremonial first pitch before the Red Sox-Tigers game.
“I hope I throw it out and don’t bounce it or roll it in,” Backes said beforehand. “I’ll miss high and hopefully won’t embarrass myself too much.”
(For the record, he did fire it high and over the plate to Sox knuckleballer Steven Wright.)
Backes has spoken with new teammates Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand – the “lead salesmen,” as Backes called them – on several occasions since the free agency process began and is more than thrilled to have the opportunity to play with them both.
“Talking to [Marchand] a little bit during the interview process before July 1, I hung up the phone and kind of had to take a deep breath and say, ‘Is that the little disturber, pain-in-the-butt? He’s actually a pretty good guy,” Backes joked.
“A guy like Bergeron, you play against him, he’s just always in the right spot and never making mistakes. Those types of guys are guys you want on your team, guys that you love to go to war with.”
During his conversations with Marchand and Bergeron, Backes said one of the most important selling points was the idea of the Bruins playing together as a team and embracing each other on and off the ice.
“Those things just rang true to my beliefs as a team, that we’re all equals, whether you’re the top-paid guy, or the top-minute guy, or the low-minute guy, or a guy that’s playing every other game and a healthy scratch the other games,” said Backes.
“We all need to be treated as equals and do whatever we can to support the next guy. And when the next guy has success, we’ve got to be just as happy as though we scored the goal.
“That’s the type of thing that when you’ve got that from a full 20 guys on the ice it’s so tough to beat. Those are the teams that win championships.”
And, ultimately, that is the reason why Backes is here embracing the city of Boston.
“At the end of the day, I want my name on that Stanley Cup – once, if not a few more times,” said Backes. “When I sat back and really analyzed it, I thought Boston had their ducks in a row with the leadership all the way up the line with Cam Neely and everyone that you speak to.
“They have a plan, they have a direction, and I’m happy to be part of that along the way.”