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Backlund fits as a Rocket

by Laurence Heinen / Calgary Flames
Needless to say, Mikael Backlund would love to play many more games at the Pengrowth Saddledome.

Backlund made his debut in a Calgary Flames’ uniform on Jan. 8 during a 5-2 win over the New York Islanders. Afterwards, the 19-year-old Swedish prospect was assigned to play for the Kelowna Rockets of the Western Hockey League.

He then made his return to Calgary to play at the Saddledome last Sunday, March 1 and his Rockets upset the Calgary Hitmen 2-1.

“It’s awesome to be here,” said Backlund, who has something to strive for next time he plays at the ’Dome after being held pointless in both previous contests this season. “Every time I’m in the Saddledome, I’m so happy to be here.”

Backlund started the season playing in the second tier of the Swedish Elite League with his hometown Vasteras club before heading overseas to play for Sweden at the World Junior Hockey Championships in Ottawa.

Instead of returning to Vasteras, where he put up four goals and four assists in 17 games, the six-foot, 205-pound centreman headed to Calgary where he made his National Hockey League debut.

In 24 games since being assigned to Kelowna, Backlund has scored nine goals and added 16 assists for the Rockets, who have secured home-ice advantage in their upcoming first-round playoff series thanks to an impressive 41-21-0-3 record.

“It’s been awesome,” said Backlund, Calgary’s first round pick (24th overall) in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft. “I’m just so happy I made the decision to come here. I’m enjoying my time.”

Although Backlund admitted he didn’t play one of his best games against Calgary, he said the Rockets played well as a team to hold the high-flying Hitmen to just one goal.

“We just worked really hard,” Backlund said. “We were in their faces all the time and worked really hard. That’s the key for winning.”

Flames General Manager Darryl Sutter gave Backlund and Calgary’s other host of young prospects a big complement last Wednesday following the NHL’s trade deadline frenzy.
After dealing away Matthew Lombardi, Brandon Prust and a first round draft pick to land Olli Jokinen on Wednesday, Sutter said he couldn’t have made the deal if he wasn’t confident in Calgary’s depth at the centre position.

“When you see Mikael Backlund and Mitch Wahl and (John) Armstrong, you know where you are going forward,” Sutter said. “It’s not just about now. It’s about always going forward.”

That’s one of the biggest reasons Backlund left his homeland; so he could get used to the grind of an NHL-like schedule while playing with the Rockets.

“It’s a big opportunity,” Backlund said. “The NHL’s like this … a lot of travel, a lot of games. I’m just trying to get used to it and do my best every night. I want to play in the NHL and if I want to do it, I have to be more consistent.”

Standing just outside the entrance to the Calgary dressing room, Backlund reiterated just how much he’d love to play a regular shift for the Flames in the near future.

“It’ll be unbelievable,” he said. “It’s my dream, the biggest dream of my life.”
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