Flames captain Mikael Backlund nears another major milestone

Mikael Backlund’s next game will be his 949th as a Flame, equalling the second-highest total in franchise history

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Fifteen years later, the memories remain vivid for Mikael Backlund.

The Calgary Flames’ first-rounder had just helped Team Sweden to a silver-medal showing at the world juniors in Ottawa. Then 19, the plan was for Backlund to hang around the Saddledome for a few days, a behind-the-scenes introduction to life in the big leagues as he waited for the paperwork to be processed so he could join the WHL’s Kelowna Rockets for the remainder of the season.

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“There was no talk of me coming here to play. That was nothing I ever expected,” Backlund reminisced. “And then all of a sudden, I remember (Todd) Bertuzzi was hurt and I was here, so I guess they figured it would be a good time for me to play my first game.”

And so, in a Jan. 8, 2009, clash with the New York Islanders, a teenaged Backlund debuted in the Flaming C crest. He wore No. 60 that night for the home team, later switching to his familiar No. 11.

“I remember hitting the post on my first shift, right off the faceoff,” he recalled with a wide smile. “It could have been one of the quickest goals ever.”

While that shot plunked the post, denying his attempt at the fastest-first-strike in Flames’ lore, Backlund’s name is nowadays all over the club record books

On Tuesday, as the Ottawa Senators pay a visit to the Saddledome (7 p.m. MT, Sportsnet West/Sportsnet 960 The Fan), the fan-fave centre will be suiting up for his 949th career contest in Calgary’s colours, which equals the second-highest total in franchise history.

Backlund is pulling even with Mark Giordano, his predecessor as captain. He is now trailing only another former teammate — the legendary Jarome Iginla, who totalled 1,219 games in Flames’ silks.

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“It’s amazing. It’s really amazing,” said Craig Conroy, who also was in the home lineup on Jan. 8, 2009, and is now general manager at the Saddledome. “Backs was a really quiet, humble kid, always very respectful. But whether it was the goal-scoring lead, points, whatever Jarome was doing … You could see him looking up to a guy like Jarome and thinking, ‘I’m going to be there one day, too,’ which I think is great.

“To see him now and for him to be the captain, it’s special. It feels good for me because I know all the hard work he’s put into it and how much he cares about the city, the team, the organization. And that was part of our conversation when we were talking about extending him. You know, to be able to do what he’s going to do with one team, it’s very, very special. Especially now, in this day and age.”

Calgary Flames right winger Jarome Iginla, left, gets congratulated by teammate centre Mikael Backlund after Iginla scored his 40th goal of the season against the Edmonton Oilers during second period NHL action at the Scotiabank Saddledome on April 6, 2011.
Calgary Flames right winger Jarome Iginla, left, gets congratulated by teammate centre Mikael Backlund after Iginla scored his 40th goal of the season against the Edmonton Oilers during second period NHL action at the Scotiabank Saddledome on April 6, 2011. Colleen De Neve/Postmedia

Indeed, this isn’t everyday material.

Across the NHL, there are only 13 active players who have logged more appearances while wearing only one logo — and this is a star-studded list headlined by Alex Ovechkin, Anze Kopitar, Steven Stamkos and the Pittsburgh Penguins’ trio of Sidney Crosby, Kris Letang and Evgeni Malkin.

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Consider that Backlund has amassed just over 16,200 minutes of ice time in his Flames career. That’s the equivalent of 270 hours.

He’s on track to join the silver-stick club in the early stages of next season.

Backlund undoubtedly is feeling frustrated after Sunday’s loss to the injury-ravaged Chicago Blackhawks — as he groaned afterward, “If we want to be a playoff team, that’s a game we have to find a way to win” — but Tuesday brings a milestone that he should take tremendous pride in.

“Those special moments in the game … It goes by so quickly and, if you don’t cherish those and enjoy ’em, you’re really missing out,” Conroy said. “Because before you know it, you’ll just be like myself, watching the games and thinking, ‘Oh, I remember when this happened or when that happened.’”

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Backlund, when he allows himself a moment to reminisce, can think back 15 years to his first skate in the NHL spotlight.

That eye-opener helped erase the sting of a 5-1 loss to Team Canada — a squad that included Jordan Eberle, Alex Pietrangelo, John Tavares and his soon-to-be Rockets teammate Jamie Benn — in the world junior gold-medal game. He formally was assigned to Kelowna a few days later.

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“It was pretty cool, pretty surreal,” Backlund said. “World juniors was awesome, but I was disappointed losing in that final and I was kind of like, ‘I don’t want to stay over here in North America,’ because I was so mad at Canada. But the day after, you settle down a little bit. You’re still disappointed, but as I came here to Calgary, I was just super excited to be around everything here.

“It was a great experience. I enjoyed all of it …”

He grins.

“Some nice paychecks, too,” he beamed. “Four or five days of NHL pay, that was nice, especially going to junior after.”

ICE CHIPS

After spending the weekend with the big club, Flames defence prospect Yan Kuznetsov has been returned to the Wranglers. The 21-year-old was a healthy scratch in Philadelphia and Chicago and continues to wait on his NHL debut.

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