It's going to be a special game for me, for sure. It's going to be different too. It's not going to be an easy one. But it's still a hockey game and I'll try to go out there and enjoy - Niklas Backstrom
SAINT PAUL, MN -- The timing could not have been better for Niklas Backstrom.
With two nights in between games, the Calgary Flames opted to spend the final three days of their three-game road trip in Minnesota and gave the players a day off Tuesday.
Thanks to that schedule, Backstrom, acquired by the Flames from the Minnesota Wild on the NHL Trade Deadline, was able to get in a full day in with his wife and children.
"I spent the day with them, see what's going with them. It was a great day to just take it easy," he said after the Flames practice at the Xcel Energy Center.
It also allowed Backstrom time to catch up with his former teammates.
The Wild, fresh off a critical win against the LA Kings on Tuesday, held a morning practice and Backstrom made sure he was over at the rink early enough to get some time with his old mates.
"It was fun," Backstrom said, noting he didn't have much time to say goodbye after he was traded at the deadline. "It was nice to see them, see how they're doing."
Thursday's game will mark the first time Backstrom has played against the Wild in his 10-year career. Signed as a free agent by Minnesota on Jun. 1, 2006, he dressed for 409 regular season games and 11 postseason contests in Wild silks.
His regular season record with Minnesota is impressive; he holds the franchise record for wins (194) and shutouts (28), and posted a .921 save percentage during his lengthy tenure in Saint Paul.
In addition to his on-ice resume, Backstrom is a fan favourite in The State of Hockey, was a leader in the Wild's dressing room, and is highly respected by his former teammates for his work ethic, character, and determination.
Suffice to say, tomorrow's game will be one he will never forget.
"It's going to be a special game for me, for sure," he stated. "It's going to be different too. It's not going to be an easy one. But it's still a hockey game and I'll try to go out there and enjoy.
"It's going to be a game that will stick in my memory for a long time."
Backstrom spent many years with quite a few of the players on Minnesota's roster, including spending over nine seasons with captain Mikko Koivu. How odd will be it to see his former teammates bearing down on him?
"In the game, you don't have so much time to think about that," he mused. "Sure, you need to know who is out there, who you're playing against, but it's more about focusing about what is going on in the game.
"But it's going to be a challenge. They're playing really great so it's going to be a tough challenge for us. It's going to be a good game and we have to play a find a way to play really good."
Tomorrow night's game is also a special occasion for Backstrom's new teammates and the coaching staff.
He has integrated himself right into the fabric of the team and everyone wants to ensure his return to his old stomping grounds go as well as it possibly can.
"Obviously, I think it's going to be a big night for Niklas and rightfully so," head coach Bob Hartley said. "We'll do everything we can to help him.
"I'm very disappointed he's 38 years old. I wish he'd be 22 ... That's the way it is. I discovered through the trade an unbelievable human being. Great guy. He stepped right in. The way that he works in the gym, in practice, he's a coach's dream."
Making tomorrow night's game a bit easier on Backstrom is his performance in Montreal on Sunday. The 38-year-old, who hadn't played a game in over 14 months at that point, allowed just one goal in his Flames debut, posting a 1.00 GAA and a .955 save percentage at the Bell Centre.
"It's nice to get that one game," Backstrom said. "It's easier to see the game, where you are, what you have work on to improve and get better and try to take the next step."