I’m really excited. It’s a dream come true. I’ve always dreamed of playing in this tournament and the Olympics and the Stanley Cup Playoffs. It’s huge for me in my career. I’m very honoured they selected me. - Mikael Backlund
CALGARY, AB -- Mikael Backlund didn’t think he’d get the call this late.
But one from coach Rikard Grönborg that told him he would be joining Team Sweden at the World Cup of Hockey 2016 changed all that.
Even if it did catch the Calgary Flames forward by surprise.
“I was in my hometown having a coffee with a childhood friend I haven’t seen in about 15 years," Backlund said. "We were talking about World Cup and how I wasn’t going to play in it. I told him that they called me and said I was on the list to be next up and if someone would get hurt they would call me.
“I told him they wouldn’t call me now and it was too late and I didn’t think anything would happen. Fifteen minutes later they called me. It was a pretty quick change.
“I’m really excited. It’s a dream come true. I’ve always dreamed of playing in this tournament and the Olympics and the Stanley Cup Playoffs. It’s huge for me in my career. I’m very honoured they selected me."
Team Sweden's training camp runs Sept. 5-14 at the Scandinavium in Gothenburg, Sweden and the Kettler Capitals Iceplex in Washington, DC.
Backlund will replace injured Detroit Red Wings forward Henrik Zetterberg.
“I feel bad for Henrik,” Backlund said. “He’s a great player and a great person. He was supposed to be the captain and leader of the team. It’s a huge loss for the team. He’s an experienced leader and he has a lot of skill. It’s a big loss. I’m not there to fill his shoes. I’m there to be myself and play my game and hopefully I can help the team the way I can, playing that two-way game and playing any role they want me to play.”
Backlund, 27, has an extensive international resume.
He earned bronze at the 2007 IIHF World Under-18 Championship, and silver at both the 2008 and 2009 IIHF World Junior Championships. He also won silver at the 2011 IIHF World Championship, and bronze at the 2010 and 2014 IIHF World Championships.
He also had three goals and an assist as an assistant captain for Sweden at the IIHF 2016 World Championship in May.
“We feel that with Mikael Backlund we will get an internationally experienced player that is very versatile and responsible,” Grönborg said in a team release. “His second half of the season with the Flames was very strong, where he showed that he is a premier all round player in the NHL.”
Backlund is ready to prove that at the highest level.
“This is the biggest event of my career, for sure,” he said. “The best players in the world will be there. Team Europe, Team North America makes all the best players that’ll be there, except the players that are hurt.
“It’ll be a tough competition. It’s the biggest tournament for me personally.”
Eight teams -- Team Sweden, Team Canada, Team Czech Republic, Team Europe, Team Finland, Team North America, Team Russia, and Team USA -- will compete at the World Cup from Sept. 17-Oct. 1 in Toronto.
Flames forwards Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau will represent Team North America, and Michael Frolik will play for Team Czech Republic. Defenceman Jyrki Jokipakka will represent Team Finland, and Jakob Nakladal, who spent the season split between the Flames and Stockton of the American Hockey League, and is currently an unrestricted free agent, will also represent Team Czech Republic.
And now, Backlund with Team Sweden.
“It’ll be fun,” he said. “It’ll be good to catch up with them and see them in Toronto and it’ll be fun to play against them. We have two exhibition games against Finland. We’ll see [Jokipakka] pretty soon. It’s always fun to play against friends and teammates internationally. It’s always special. It’s going to be fun to play against those guys.”