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DEAR DAD

Backlund's impending journey into parenthood helps ease the pain of playoff exit

by RYAN DITTRICK @ryandittrick / CalgaryFlames.com

The father-to-be had visions of having to hop on the next flight, speed down the Deerfoot, break down the doors of the hospital and arrive in a fluster, with a barely second to spare.

Just like in the movies. 

Mikael Backlund's wife, Frida - 36 weeks pregnant with the couple's first child - was 1,800 kilometres away while he was on the job in Denver for four whole days. 

His phone, close by at all times.

"It was a little stressful," Backlund laughed. "I couldn't imagine getting a call like that - 'Hurry, it's happening right now!' - being so far away.

"Could you imagine having that happen in the middle of a playoff series? 

"Oof.

"Thankfully, no baby."

Yet. 

Any day now, the Backlunds' lives will change for the better, forever.

And while the couple was hoping for happier times on the ice, to mark the occasion with a festive swig from that towering, silver chalice, they're counting their blessings, all the same.

For a family man like Backlund, the instantaneous change in priority was like a break in the clouds in the aftermath of a stinging, first-round departure.

"Sitting at home, you still think about what you've done or could have done personally and as a team," Backlund said following Monday's exit meetings. "To reflect on it now, even only a few days later, it sucks.

"Bad.

"Right after (Game 5), I went home, was feeling pretty down. But I told Frida, 'You know what? Now I'm only focused on you. Whatever you need, I'm here for you.'

"Not that I wasn't going to be there for her before!

"But it's different. 'I'm here for you now.' Family can be a welcome distraction sometimes and allow you to appreciate everything you have and the life you've built.

"It was an interesting moment. To lose like we did and have the season end so suddenly, everything felt so…like, final. Then to go home and see Frida, it felt like a fresh start. For my family, and for our team - the start of something exciting."

 

 

The Backlunds have taken up residence here in the Stampede City full-time, spending the majority of the summer in town while travelling back home to Sweden for only a few weeks later in the off-season. 

This year, that visit will surely be pushed back, allowing time for the newest member of the family to settle into this big new world before travelling halfway around it to meet the extended Backlund/Engstrom clan.

Calgary has become the Backlunds' home base, with Mikael training here almost exclusively with fellow Flames to better prepare for the upcoming campaign. 

More importantly, though, he feels at home here, devoting much of his (unheralded) free time to various charitable foundations, including the Special Olympics, ALS research and Kids Cancer Care, among others.

Where better to spend your formative adult years - and now - raise a family in a cultural epicentre on the doorstep of the Rockies?

Add it all up and Calgary is where dad wanted Baby Backlund to call home, too.

"We love it here," Backlund said. "Calgary's been very good to me - to us. It's such a beautiful place to be in the summertime, too. So much to see, to do. 

"To be able to have our first child here is perfect. And it gives us both another excuse to enjoy our surroundings on a bit of a different level than before."

And for Backlund - who's entering his 10th NHL off-season - a chance to try something new.

"Normally after the season I'd go for a little vacation to try and clear the head and get away from the game a little bit before getting back at it later in the summer," he said. 

"This year, I'm feeling pretty good physically - and with all the changes in my personal life, I'll probably start a bit earlier and take more frequent breaks over the summer, instead of one big one.

"I'll start working out here in Calgary. Might even start skating with a skills coach. We'll be here until June at some point and then go back home to catch up with our family and friends."

 

 

Backlund, who's coming off another in a long line of great years in these colours, can hardly wait for the new season. 

The baby, perhaps, reinvigorating him so soon after defeat. 

The business, unfinished. 

It's a long summer ahead, but to come back fresh - and most importantly, excited - is critical for everyone involved in the team's Cup quest. 

And at this time next year, he'll have another little supporter cheering him on toward that goal.

"If that doesn't make you feel pride and the hunger to come back better next year, nothing will," Backlund said. "So, the work starts now.

"In more ways than one, right?"

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