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Backes Returning to Familiar Surroundings

Veteran feeling more at home as second season with Bruins approaches

by Eric Russo @NHLBruins /

BOSTON - David Backes arrived in Boston last fall with plenty to ponder.

He was leaving behind the only organization he had ever known, the place where he developed into one of the NHL's premier two-way centers, and the community where his family had become such a fixture.

After 10 years in St. Louis, Backes had to adjust to a fresh system and unfamiliar teammates, while finding a new home and settling his wife and young daughter into their new surroundings. Add in the fact that Backes had to miss the early part of training camp as he suited up for Team USA at the World Cup of Hockey and it made for an interesting, and at times challenging, transition.

None of the challenges were unexpected. Such is life when changing teams in professional sports.

But a year later, with his mind now focused squarely on the ice, Backes is feeling somewhat rejuvenated as he approaches his second season in Black & Gold.

"Not that [the adjustments were] a huge burden, but they were things that were on a list of items to check off and to make sure that they were in line," said Backes, who is entering his 12th NHL season. "Now coming back here, my wife has made a lot of friends over the last year. Houses are settled, we've put our stuff down, we're living and that's an awesome feeling to know that that's checked off the list.

"I come here to familiar surroundings. I've got familiar faces to see again and get excited to go out there and play the game, and really be more concentrated on what's going on here [and] hopefully a bigger factor in winning more games. And that's what we're all about."

Backes debuted at captain's practice on Tuesday - as did Zdeno Chara, David Krejci, and Brad Marchand - joining 30 of his teammates at Warrior Ice Arena for a tune-up ahead of next week's training camp.

"That's part of the summer, getting away and getting some time to have that new feeling when you get back, that excitement that you're back at the rink, back with your teammates and that opportunity to do something special again," said Backes, who arrived earlier this week after making the 1,400-mile drive from his home in Minnesota.

"The way that everyone's flying out here already… just over a week before camp starts, it's a good sign. We all had fun out there giving each other a hard time and working our butts off and trying to get better and hit the ground running once camp starts."

Video: Captain's practices pick up as more players arrive

During his first season with the Bruins, Backes provided a strong veteran presence on the ice and in the dressing room, while notching 17 goals and 21 assists in 74 games. The 6-foot-3, 221-pounder played primarily on the right side - switching between Boston's top two lines - and seemed to find his groove while playing alongside Patrice Bergeron and Marchand over the season's second half.

But Backes, now 33, entered the offseason believing he had more to give. As a result, he altered his summer training. The hulking winger significantly ramped down his lifting program - which he likened to a football workout in previous years - opting instead for a focus on agility and speed.

As someone who has relied on playing a heavy, bruising style during his career, it was a significant, but necessary, change.

"This summer was a lot more functional stuff, a lot more speed training, on-ice hockey-specific stuff," said Backes. "I think it's part because I'm getting older and part because the game is evolving into a faster, quicker, less let's-just-chip-it-in-and-grind-it-out type of game."

With so many players on the ice for captain's practice - not to mention its informal nature - Backes said it would take some time to judge just how much his quickness has improved.

"The training with things that are functional, a lot of one-legged stuff, a lot of range of motion stuff, one-legged squats," said Backes, "I feel more powerful, more comfortable and balanced on one leg. I felt that more in my skating stride and we'll see how it translates to full speed and the highest level that you can play at in the NHL."

Another change Backes may have to make this season is shifting back to center. Some offseason conversations with Boston's coaching staff have opened the possibility of him returning to his natural position and slotting in behind Bergeron and Krejci.

"It's been good dialogue. We're not going to know what's going to be the case until, probably, the puck drops on Opening Night," said Backes, who shared center duties with Sean Kuraly on Boston's third line towards the end of last spring's playoff series with Ottawa.

"But that being said, I think I'm open to trying whatever and they're open to tinkering with and being flexible with wing or center. That's why you have training camp is to have those opportunities and to see what a couple of those new things look like…we'll see how it shakes out."

The next few weeks will determine where Backes best fits into the 2017-18 version of the Bruins lineup. But wherever he lands, he'll certainly be feeling more at home.

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