For Blaine native David Backes, hockey was just a backup plan.
As a graduate and prep hockey standout at Spring Lake Park High School, Backes excelled on the ice, and in the classroom. The former Minnesota State-Mankato Mavericks captain was working to obtain an electrical engineering degree.
The 6’3”, 216-pound power forward didn’t expect hockey to win out.
Judging by an Olympic Silver Medal, an NHL All-Star selection and this fall’s five-year contract extension, the St. Louis Blues are certainly thankful it did.
The 2003 second-round draft pick (62nd overall) is having another stellar year in the Gateway City, posting 17 goals and 21 assists for 38 points in 51 games. He’s also registered 133 hits and has a plus-13 rating.
Backes, 26, spoke with Wild.com about his roots in the State of Hockey and what it’s like to be an inspiration to younger players in the area.Wild.com: How feasible did the NHL, Olympics, and an NHL All-Star selection seem nine years ago as a senior at Spring Lake Park High School?Backes
: It was the furthest thing from reality. It was always a dream obviously to accomplish all those things. But the reality that I was going to play Division-I hockey, at the time -- that was overachieving for me to get to that level. The reality of even my potential to play a game or sign an NHL contract, it was another year and a half (after high school) before I got drafted. And even after that, I knew I still had a long way to go to play with the big boys.Wild.com: To who or to what do you credit your development from high school all the way up to this point?Backes
: I always had a lot of fun playing. Obviously, it was playing a lot of minutes at Spring Lake Park High School, and I felt like I was contributing and was able to play at the next level of Division I college hockey. I didn’t want to just play at that level. I wanted to be very productive and be a top-tier player at that level, too. A player that was going to play a ton of minutes – play on the power play and penalty kill – and I had to work my butt off in high school, and in juniors to get at that level and be productive.
I got there and I was an okay player, but I wanted to be a good or great player at that level and had to continue to work in the offseason, off the ice, and on the ice. By the time my junior year rolled around, I was producing on a regular basis and the Blues saw that and decided that it was time for me to take that next step to the professional level.Wild.com: Have you always been the player you are now – more of a physical presence, a grinder but can also chip in on the scoreboard?Backes
: I don’t know exactly when that started, but that’s kind of been my M.O. – have a little bit of offensive potential but would also play the physical game with anybody if that’s what was called upon.Wild.com: Were you there when Spring Lake Park retired your number in 2007?Backes
: I was there. I think they planned it when we were playing the Wild and we were in town the night before, so I was able to get down there and enjoy that and see some of the old faces, and the old rink. To be part of something like that, I was really honored to have that done.Wild.com: Do you ever think about the impact and inspiration you’ve provided to younger hockey folks in that area and throughout Minnesota?Backes
: Yeah, I come back and spend my summers in Minnesota. We have family there. The lakes and the area is something that my wife and I really enjoy. When we’re back there, you get a lot of young kids at the rink or the gym that say “hi.” You see their eyes kind of light up. It’s humbling that I’ve kind of been doing this and having fun and really enjoying myself at the professional level. Then, to see some of these secondary effects of being role models and inspirations and showing these kids that from a small town in Minnesota you can become a professional and now an Olympian and an All-Star -- It’s humbling to have that honor.Wild.com: As someone who played through their senior year of high school and has successfully made it to the NHL, what are your thoughts on kids opting to play juniors or other hockey instead of going through high school in Minnesota?Backes
: I think there’s a lot of emphasis from parents and kids thinking they have to go play junior at such an early age, whether it’s in Canada or even the USHL. To me, there are some things that are missed as far as social development. Having your parents around until you’re 17 or 18 years old and that mentorship they provide at those ages – I think it’s really crucial to the development of character. And if you miss that, really if you don’t make it in the hockey world, it’s tough to have all your priorities and morals in line.
For me, school came first. Hockey was the backup plan. It turned out to be the primary plan but I was at Mankato thinking I was going to be an electrical engineer and if the hockey thing works out, it works out. But I concentrated on school first.Wild.com: You were an excellent student, and obviously you have to be when you’re pursuing an electrical engineering degree. Is that still somewhat of a hobby for you or something you might pursue after your professional career?Backes
: I’ve looked back a few times at some of those text books that I had, and wondered what the heck I was thinking when I was in that class. Some of that stuff is so complex; I’d probably have to start at Class Number One to start building it all back. But I’m not too many credits away from a physics degree, or maybe a mathematics degree – I’ve done tons of that. Those things are still passions of mine, and things that I use in my everyday life, but I think the electrical engineering has probably taken a back seat and is a fantasy now. But there’s going to be plenty of other endeavors. You can only play this game for so long. I’ll pursue something and we’ll see what happens after I’m done.Wild.com: Is there a certain amount of pride that comes from being a Minnesotan in the NHL or a bond between guys who come up through the area?Backes
: Absolutely. The guys from your local area have a special connection. Then you get into the city connection, and the whole state. People will say “hi” to each other all over the place. It doesn’t mean they’re going to take it light on the guy during the game, but to know that there are other guys that came from your walk of life, and have made it to the same level is something special.