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Backes gives Team USA skill as well as snarl

by Shawn P. Roarke
VANCOUVER -- St. Louis forward David Backes was one of a raft of Team USA players who entered the 2010 Olympic hockey tournament without much of an international reputation.
In fact, Backes was probably one of the most controversial of the 23 players GM Brian Burke chose on Jan. 1 to represent the United States. At the time of his selection, Backes had just 9 goals and 19 points. Plus, the 25-year-old was in just his fourth NHL season.
But Burke, the architect of the American team, believed that Backes could be just the type of player Team USA needed as part of a new generation that will try to duplicate the successes the team had from 1994 to 2002, bookended by a World Cup of Hockey victory at the beginning of that run and a silver medal at the end.
In Team USA's first game of the 2010 Olympic tournament, Backes repaid Burke's faith by scoring the winning goal in Tuesday's 3-1 Group A victory against Switzerland at Canada Hockey Place. Just as important, Backes played a snarling, nasty game throughout as part of a highly effective fourth line for the Americans.
"What David Backes does is he's big but he can move his feet well, he's got proper levels of truculence and he's good on faceoffs," Burke said Tuesday afternoon in the glow of the victory. "He does a lot of the pick-and-shovel things on a team well, and he's going to have to shut down people and bang later in the tournament."
But Backes' defining moment Tuesday was far from workmanlike. It had superstar written all over it.
A little more than five minutes into the second period, the Americans were looking a tad nervous as they clung to a 1-0 lead, which was forged on the strength of a goal by Anaheim's Bobby Ryan, who was also on the fourth line with Backes.
But then Backes struck.
He picked up a puck laying loose right in front of American goalie Ryan Miller and started chugging up ice – and never stopped. Backes picked up speed along the left wall -- moving his feet, as Burke would say -- and swung wide past Swiss defender Yannick Weber as he hit the bottom of the circle. As he cut in, he made a nifty backhand-to-forehand move that freed him to beat Swiss goalie Jonas Hiller to the far post.
"I noticed the two defenders were back," said Backes, sporting gauze in his nostril to stop the bleeding caused by a first-shift collision with a Swiss player. "So I tried to get a bit of speed. I've got a big frame so I just tried to keep the defender on my back side and once I had the corner it was: 'Get to that far post as quick as I could and throw it in there as hard as I could.' And I saw it go past his pad and it was pretty cool."
It was actually a thing of beauty from a player whose game is often about the unglamorous side of hockey -- what Wilson calls the "detailed grunt work."
"We'll save that video," Burke said, smiling broadly.
But according to Backes' teammate in St. Louis, Team USA defenseman Erik Johnson, there is a good chance you could see a similar goal from Backes before this Olympic tournament is done.
"It was like déjà vu when I saw him score that goal," Johnson told "I've seen him score that same exact goal, at that same end, in this building (against the NHL's Vancouver Canucks) before. I'm used to that and hopefully he does it every game here going forward."
"To me, there's no question he is the type of guy that can play in these short tournaments. He can kill penalties, play in front of the net on the power play and shut down the other team's top players. He's been doing it on our team in St. Louis. He's kind of a jack of all trades and it was evident today."
When it comes to Backes, maybe Brian Burke knew what he was talking about all along.

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