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Backlund excited to join Sweden for World Championship

by Jason Pirie / Calgary Flames

Mikael Backlund is not willing to allow his career-best season come to an end just yet.

The 27-year-old made it known during locker room clean out day at Scotiabank Saddledome Monday morning that he is Moscow-bound.

The Calgary Flames forward plans to meet up with Team Sweden for both training camp and a pre-tournament game in his hometown of Vasteras next week before departing for the 2016 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship from May 6-22 in Moscow and St. Petersburg, Russia.

“I love to play with and against the best. That’s my favourite part of playing this game,” said Backlund, who has captured silver (2011) and bronze (2010, 2014) in his three previous World Championship experiences, to go with a pair of back-to-back silver medals from the World Juniors (2008, 2009). “To be able to go back to where it all started for me is going to be exciting.”

The Flames’ first round pick (No. 24) in 2007 is not only coming off his most productive offensive season but also his healthiest, enjoying career highs in games played (82), goals (21), assists (26), points (47) and plus/minus (+10).

Respectable numbers when you consider the Swede had potted only five markers through his first 50 games.

“I feel like I took a big step this year,” said Backlund, who netted his first-career hat trick during the Flames’ home finale dismantling of Vancouver on Thursday. “Other than my slow start, I feel like I worked hard every day, created a lot more offence and, at the end of the day, I was rewarded for it.”

In 25 games at the World Championship, the 6-foot-1 200-pound center has recorded eight goals and six assists for 14 points. He led all Swedish forwards in average ice time with 17:50 at the 2014 installment.

The only time Backlund hasn’t answered the call for Tre Kroner was in 2013, and only after missing four weeks with a sprained medial collateral ligament and suffering a foot fracture toward the end of that season.

“It’s a long season, lots of games, so to stay healthy this year is exciting because I have had tough years in the past,” he said. “It’s always an honour to represent my country on the world stage and it’s something that I’m really looking forward to. I’m excited to have an opportunity to help my country win gold.”

Defenceman Jakub Nakladal and winger Michael Frolik, both nursing injuries, announced they will not participate for Czech Republic while Flames captain Mark Giordano and fellow blueliner TJ Brodie are expected to turn down invites from Hockey Canada.

“I’m leaning towards not going and spending time with my son back home and getting some rest,” Giordano said. “That’s my mindset right now. Obviously, things could change, but right now I’m leaning towards that.”

Ditto for Brodie.

“My main priority is here,” said Brodie, who enjoyed career-highs in almost every offensive category this season. “I think it’s more important to go home and recover. Sometimes it’s beneficial to go, and at other times it’s better to rest. They asked, but with the way my body feels right now, I think it’s better to go home and relax and get back to 100 percent and get back to training for next year.”

Not unlike Backlund and Brodie, 32-year-old Giordano is coming off his best NHL season to date.

He hopes declining an invite to the World Championship doesn’t hurt his chances for World Cup inclusion.

“You hope not, but you never know,” said Giordano, whose 21 goals this season were the most by a Flames defenceman since Al MacInnis tallied 28 during the 1993-94 campaign. “I just feel like it’s a long season and you don’t get those days like you can when you’re off. I won’t regret spending some time with my son and getting some rest.”

Sean Monahan, a member of Canada’s 2014 contingent that placed fifth in Belarus, has also opted to say thanks but no thanks to an invite from Flames general manager Brad Treliving, a co-general manager of this year’s Canadian squad.

“It’s a little unique this year because I’m wearing two hats," Treliving said. "I can tell you from the Team Canada hat I’m disappointed. Those are good players. It’s our goal to go over there and have success. Any time you can have good players you want good players. From a Calgary Flames perspective I get it. I try to pride myself on having a strong relationship with players and we talk through it. For each guy, there’s a little different circumstance. From Sean’s case he doesn’t have a contract. Number Two, he got nicked up in Minnesota. He’s going to be out a bit.

"I get it. As I told them all, my feeling is you want hockey players playing. It’s a great experience. From a Team Canada perspective, our goal is to go over there and win. You sort through it and I support them and I understand.”

Monahan’s linemate, and Flames leading scorer, Johnny Gaudreau, meanwhile, is still on the fence about joining his countrymen overseas.

“They asked me. I’m still undecided right now, I’m not sure,” said the 22-year-old American. “I think with the World Cup (of Hockey) and me not having a contract right now, it might not be the best thing for me to go. I love playing hockey, I love being on the ice, so it’s hard for me to say no to something like that. Still undecided right now, but I could easily be going in a couple of weeks.”

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