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On the Fly | Niklas Backstrom

by Minnesota Wild / Minnesota Wild

Where does the reputation come from that goalies are weird?

I think it’s different now, but...It’s different out there as a goalie. Even though it’s a team game, when you’re a goalie, you’re not exactly by yourself, but you have to focus on your own game. Goalies focus a lot. That’s probably where the reputation of being weird comes from.

Have you always been a goalie?

We had a skating school where you learn to skate for the first year, so there were no goalies then, but I have been since the first practice when we created teams.

What was playing hockey like growing up in Helsinki?

It’s the capital of Finland, the biggest city there, and there were three big programs. I grew up in one of them, HIFK, in that junior system, and played in the Finnish Elite League there for a year and a half.

Have you thought about why a relatively small country such as Finland produces so many elite goaltenders?

I think one reason is that you have goalie coaches when you’re young, so you’re taught the technical stuff, the fundamentals, from the age of 6 or 7 years. And you also have goalie practices every week.

One other thing is that, in Finland, people there really appreciate the goalies. They know it’s a big part of hockey. Finland always had good goalies, and, after a few made it in the NHL, it made it easier for more of us to come here.

How difficult is it to learn Finnish?

Swedish is my first language – about 15 percent of the people in Finland have Swedish as their first language there – but Finnish is a tough language. Usually I don’t bother trying to explain it to the guys. They can catch a word here or there, but it’s usually not a good word.
What hobbies do you have away from the rink?

I try to live pretty simply. For sure, you like some things, but you just try to enjoy life. We’re in a special situation being able to play professional hockey. That’s a dream come true.

If you weren’t a goalie, what would you be doing for a living?

Those are questions you ask when you lose, you know. You think, “Maybe I should start to study.” I don’t know. Probably something with sports. I haven’t found the answer yet, so I hope I can still play for a couple more years.

Your pregame routine, walking around the rink, in a zone tuning out the rest of the world, is sort of legendary.

Ha. Like every player, you try to get your mind there. You try to get your body there. I do some stretches and some things to warm me up. For goalies, it’s a lot of mental stuff out there, so you want to make sure you’re ready. I try to do all the thinking before the game so that when I go out there I just play. I don’t have to think about anything. I just leave all the thoughts outside the rink and just play.

The locker room isn’t the quietest place before the game, so, for me, it’s easier to go outside and walk around – just focus on what I have to do to play well and stop as many pucks as possible.

Do we notice that you’re wearing a new mask? And what’s on the mask?

I usually get one new one for every year, and I had this one [delivered] at the beginning of training camp, but it was the wrong size. I got a couple wrong ones, but this one’s fitting now. For sure, you don’t want to change your mask when you win some games, but here in December, we had a tough stretch. You’re trying to do anything to change things around, so I think it was time to change the mask and try to get a new start. [Equipment Manager] Tony [DaCosta], I think he’s hiding my old mask. I haven’t found it yet.
The guy who paints it, I never have any idea what he will do. I only want certain things on there – the logo, my number, my name and a Finnish flag, but, after that, it’s up to him. He wanted to do something with the nature and wildlife, so we have a bear on one side and an eagle on the other.

No heavy metal bands?

You think about that, but you go out there to play, and I think it’s more about the team and where you play. You want to be a part of that and respect that. • JAMES MACDONALD

ON THE FLY | JANUARY 2009 | Niklas Backstrom
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