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TALK ABOUT A 'GOOD GUY'

Mikael Backlund receives annual Peter Maher award: "It's an honour to have him around the Flames."

by RYAN DITTRICK @ryandittrick / Calgaryflames.com

A decade has passed, but the moment is fresh. 

The image of the baby-faced youngster scurrying into the zone, setting his aim and slinging his first-ever puck past an NHL goaltender lingers large. 

Peter Maher will never forget it. 

"It was on January 28, 2010, in Phoenix," the legendary Flames broadcaster recalled Thursday, announcing Mikael Backlund as the winner of the team's annual 'Good Guy' Award in his honour. 

"He played the night before in Dallas after being called up. It was a very important goal. It tied the game and sent it to overtime. 

"Since that time, he's gone on to score 144 more goals and has had a very distinguished career in the National Hockey League. 

"It's an honour to have him around the Flames."

A legend would know. 

Ten years on, that blocker-side strike was but a teaser to what the Flames organization was getting, both on and off the ice, for so many years to come.

A shining example of what a gracious ambassador can do to lead in all areas of a franchise.

Backlund has often been heralded as the ultimate team guy. But for those in the media - lucky as we are to have dressing-room access to help tell the stories of the athletes we cover - 'Backs' is known as the ultimate good guy. 

He's genuinely kind, caring and friendly with those he works with, answers the 'tough' questions like a pro, with thought and purpose, and is one of the most positive influences in a Flames dressing room that has many. 

"We have a great relationship," Backlund said on a media call to announce the honour. "Not only me, but as a team, we've had it the whole time I've been in Calgary.

"A lot of ups and downs through all my years here, and you never wrote anything bad about me or counted me out. ... I really appreciate the award. It means a lot to me and very thankful."

Twelve players were nominated this year, including newcomers Milan Lucic and Cam Talbot.

 

Video: Backlund wins the Peter Maher Good Guy Award

 

Backlund, though, is universally praised for the qualities Maher demonstrated throughout his long and storied career with the organization: Respect, patience and honesty.

"He's really an example of the type of individual that you want in the organization," said general manager Brad Treliving. "He's a pro, through and through, he cares and looks after himself, prepares exactly how you'd want a pro to prepare. He treats people the right way, treats his teammates the right way, treats the fans the right way ... 
 
"I don't know if you could have a better example of a more deserving person for this award. We're proud not only of what the award represents, but we're proud to have Backs as part of our group."

Naturally, the presentation itself looked a bit this different this year. 

Instead of a formal gathering at the Scotiabank Saddledome, Backlund called from his home in Sweden, where he and his wife, Frida, are putting the finishing touches on a new stead for the young family. 

He only recently started skating again after what seems like a lifetime away from the rink. But even with Sweden's more relaxed public measures in place for group gatherings and business operations, ice isn't easy to come by. 

Still, with training camps opening no earlier than July 1, Backlund will be slowing building back up to what he hopes will resemble game speed later this month. 

"I started skating yesterday and (was on the ice again) today, and prior to that I skated twice in April as well," he said. "But there's no ice in my hometown, so I've got to drive a little bit. 

"These last two skates were with my power skating coach. I wanted to get going a little bit. I'm going to see if I can get more guys out next week. The closer we get and if we do play, I'll start driving to Stockholm and skate with those guys there and get a few scrimmages in. 

"In a couple weeks, I think there will be ice in my hometown as well. 

"Other than that. I've been doing some off-ice workouts like I would during a regular summer, and also doing some in-line skating.

"I'll ramp it up if the season resumes."

 

Video: A look at Backlund's top plays thus far this season

 

Backlund was playing some his best hockey of the season prior to the pause, and was earning all kinds of praise from his head coach, including talk of a Selke Trophy nomination. 

The 31-year-old had points (14) in nine of his last 10 dates, including back-to-back three-point efforts on a swing through two of the NHL's most difficult cities in Boston and Nashville. His 19 points in 14 games in the month of February put him hot on the heels of Mika Zibanejad and Leon Draisaitl for the league's top clip in that period.

While Backlund admits returning to that pace after such a long break will be tough, he is taking the confidence of that run into the start-up, whenever that may be. 

"You've got to accept that training camp is not going to be perfect," he said. "It's not going to be perfect going into the playoffs, either, but you have to make the most of camp to get back all your timing and all that stuff and get back to the NHL speed. You have to accept it and not get frustrated. 

"Who knows - maybe I'll have a great camp? 

"But I know it'll be different. 

"Even when we play - if we do play - you're going to find out either way."

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