The Flames season may be over, but that does not mean there is nothing left to pique the interest of Flames fans.
Those who want a glimpse into one of the future cornerstones of the team would be well served to follow the upcoming Western Hockey League championships between the Calgary Hitmen and the Kelowna Rockets. One of the top players in the series is the Rockets' Mikael Backlund
, one of the Flames' top prospects.
"I've been really happy with my time here... I've been really enjoying my game here... I really enjoy playing in the WHL," said Backlund, who credits the experience of playing high-level North American hockey as benefitting him both as a player and as a person.
"I've been growing as a person, moving by myself to another country... been playing a lot of minutes every night, a lot of games. It's helped me with my confidence and helped my game a lot," said Backlund.
Drafted 24th overall by the Flames in the 2007 entry draft, the Swedish centre has lit the WHL on fire since being assigned to the Rockets in January, scoring 12 goals and 30 points in 28 games. Following the Flames disappointing first-round playoff loss to the Chicago Blackhawks, and with their existing contract commitments and the resulting salary cap ramifications, the club may look to re-invigorate itself by giving some of their prospects an opportunity. Backlund has recently won both WHL and CHL player of the week honours, and he knows that if he maintains his current torrid level of play he will be tough to ignore when next year's training camp arrives.
"Of course if I'm playing good here I will have a better chance next year of playing for the Flames, I know they've been watching me almost every game," said Backlund, "I'm just gonna do my best, have fun, and play my game."
Backlund did play in one game for the Flames following a terrific showing in the 2009 World Junior Hockey Championships. He saw just over ten minutes of ice-time in the Flames 5-2 victory over the New York Islanders on January 8th, but was dispatched to Kelowna shortly after. Having heard the roar of the Flames' faithful, Backlund already has a special place in his heart for the Saddledome, despite the fact that this time around he's an opponent.
"It's always special being here in Calgary in the Saddledome because I was drafted here so I like to be here, but I'm just going to go out and play for my team and work hard and do my best," said Backlund, who knows there will be many hopeful Flames fans following him closely. But rather than be deterred by the added pressure of playing in front of his soon-to-be home crowd, Backlund is thrilled at the prospect.
"(Being in Calgary) is no more pressure; it's more exciting I think... I don't feel so much pressure here, its fun to be here."
Backlund's Rockets will be in hard against a Calgary Hitmen team that has won a WHL record 12 games in a row, but fans of Calgary hockey should rejoice knowing they still have plenty to cheer about.