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A busy Backlund

by Mike Board / Calgary Flames
Mikael Backlund had a whirlwind tour of hockey this season. From Sweden to Ottawa, through Calgary, to Kelowna. A World Junior Championship, a one-game stint in the NHL and a trip to the Memorial Cup.

Exhausting and exhilarating at the same time.
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Backlund, the smooth centre drafted in the first round of the 2007 Entry Draft by the Calgary Flames, admits to having a slow start to the season playing for his hometown club in Vasteras, Sweden. But, when he arrived in Ottawa for the World Junior Championships, his game got a spark and he made the decision to stay in North America. He played a game with the Flames before moving on to play for the Kelowna Rockets, the Western Hockey League team that holds his junior rights. Things just got better and better.

He recorded 12 goals and 18 assists in 28 regular season games with the Rockets and then had 13 goals and 10 assists in 19 playoff games with the Rockets as they won the WHL Championship, defeating the Calgary Hitmen. A trip back east, this time to Quebec for the Memorial Cup and a berth in the final -- a loss to the Windsor Spitfires -- completed the season for Backlund.

"It was disappointing," Backlund, 20, said of the loss in the Memorial Cup. "After the Memorial Cup you didn't want to talk about hockey at all."

So what did he do?

"I hung out in Kelowna with the guys for a while and then I went home. I took two weeks off and then got back into it," said Backlund, one of 27 prospects at a Flames development camp this week at the Pengrowth Saddledome.

There is no mistaking where Backlund wants to be this fall when training camp breaks. "Hopefully with the Flames," he said.

To crack the line-up is no easy task. The Flames have added depth at defence and the forward ranks over the summer.

"It's up to me. I have to play my best hockey and get my confidence. I didn't play well at the start of last season. I got better at the World Juniors. In the playoffs (with Kelowna) I played my best hockey in a long time," he said.

New head coach Brent Sutter is at the 'Dome taking in the development camp and getting know the potential future Flames.

Asked about Backlund, Sutter said: "I watched him at the World Juniors. He was an impact player there. He's very skilled. But, he's like all the kids -- they have a lot to learn."

Does a first round pick with skill, like Backlund, get a little longer look at training camp?

Sutter smiles.

"They determine that," he said.

For Backlund, this is a more familiar scene. Afterall, it is his second development camp.

"The first time I was nervous. Now I know how stuff works. There are some new faces but it feels more comfortable," said Backlund.

And he knows what he has to do to get to the next level.

"I have to be stronger," he said. "I have to play strong every night. I would have good games in Kelowna and then not so good. I have to work on my consistency and be ready mentally."
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