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David Backes ready for emotional visit to St. Louis

Forward who spent 10 seasons with Blues returns to Scottrade Center on Tuesday

by Amalie Benjamin @AmalieBenjamin / Staff Writer

BOSTON -- His health came first. David Backes knew that. He knew, too, that there would be other trips to St. Louis, other chances to revisit the first decade of his NHL career, his former home, the place he grew up and learned to play in the NHL and became an adult.

That didn't mean that the Boston Bruins road trip to St. Louis wasn't on his mind Dec. 29, when he sustained a concussion and when his return to the lineup was in question. 

"I think health is first and foremost," Backes said. "If I were to miss that game, then there's maybe next [year] or whenever; it'll happen sooner or later. But I think once your health's in order, it's back on the radar. There's certainly not a chance I'd be pushing it to get back extra early to go play in that game. You get one brain. It's not worth it."

For Backes, though, the return came more swiftly than it has for others. Though teammate John-Michael Liles has yet to play since he had a concussion on Nov. 27, Backes was back on the ice against the Florida Panthers on Saturday, scoring a goal in a much-needed 4-0 win for the Bruins. He missed three games.

Video: BOS@FLA: Backes deflects Krejci's shot past Reimer

That has paved his way back to St. Louis and the St. Louis Blues, who the Bruins play at Scottrade Center on Tuesday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN, TVA Sports, NESN, NHL.TV).

"It's certainly a date that when you leave, you look forward to, you circle on your calendar," Backes said. "A myriad of emotions of playing your old teammates, seeing old familiar faces, being in old familiar stomping grounds."

There were emotions earlier this year, too, when the Blues came to Boston on Nov. 22, a 4-2 win for St. Louis when Backes scored the opening goal.

But this game? This game he knew would be different. He would be going home. He would be able to tell his new teammates about the city, to give them recommendations on restaurants for Monday night, on where to go and what to do, to show them why he enjoyed the city and what it meant to him.

He would really show them that Tuesday, though, he knew. He has seen players come back to their former teams, seen the receptions, the video tributes, the responses. He knows some of that might be waiting for him. He knows that the Blues saved their annual charity event "Barkin' for Blues," one started by Backes and his wife to benefit Athletes for Animals, for Jan. 10, when he would be back in town to share it.

He knows there will be feelings.

"As if we didn't need any more emotion thrown into it, that [event] is going to be that night, and my wife and daughter are flying in," Backes said. "There will be plenty going through your head, but like when [the Blues] were here, I want to stay in the moment, I want to enjoy every second of it."

Backes was selected by the Blues in the second round (No. 62) of the 2003 NHL Draft. He spent 10 seasons with them, including the past five as captain.

The past week has not been easy for Backes. He was injured and had to worry about his health. He watched the 2017 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic, a game he missed by a year with both the Bruins and the Blues. He contemplated not playing in a game he had long anticipated.

He thought about the people he would miss.

He won't have to miss them.

"I've had so many people reach out to me already to ask me what my time's being consumed by while I'm in town and trying to reconnect and all those great relationships that we made while we were there, trying to get a little piece of that," Backes said.

"It's kind of analogous to my wedding day, when you've got 300 people that you want to spend time with, all of them at once, but you only have so much time to allocate and how you're going to divvy that up. In the end, I imagine it's going to be a similar feeling where it's like, whew, that went by so fast. I didn't get to talk to that person or that person or that person. In the end, it's enjoyable, but it's never long enough to really connect again with everybody that was so kind to me in 10 years."

That was why, Backes joked, he and his wife had videographers at their wedding. Maybe, he added, he'll have to get one of the Bruins' staff members, a video producer, to follow him around with a camera. Maybe he'll need that to process everything.

He knows, in the end, there's one thing that will get him, one thing he will have to fight against. Teams tend to do video tributes to former players, to recognize their moments, big and small with the team. When he thinks about that, Backes said, "I'm going to try not to cry."

He thinks of everything he gave to the Blues, everything his wife gave too. He thinks about what it might mean to see himself on the video board, to see his wife there, to see what he meant to the community and what it meant to him.

"That might put me over the top, no matter what's happening in the moment," Backes said. "May need a couple shifts off from Claude [Julien]."

Maybe a tissue stashed on the bench, it is suggested.

"Maybe," he said, "a full Gatorade towel."

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