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Who Makes Whom Good in Washington?

Tip of the hat to the Rink’s Sverige insider Ice Warrior for finding and translating this great article from the Swedish Expressen website. In this interview, Nicklas Backstrom‘s former coach Leif Boork reveals that he knew all along that Nicky was destined for great things, and perhaps is the power behind the throne in Washington?

The Secret of Bäckström According to Leif Boork

“The future captain of Brynäs is Nicklas Bäckström– he’s the symbol for the new and more ambitious Brynäs”. I wrote that in my diary February 27th of 2006 when I coached the club, and a few days later on the 5th of March, after a personal conversation with Nicklas, I followed that up with these words: “Nicklas will be greater than what most people think, even greater than what his parents believe.” Here’s the secret of how Nicklas Bäckström become the point leader for Tre Kronor.

It was sporting director Michael Sundlöv that gave me the inspiration to go with Nicklas for Brynäs’ first team. As a Brynäsare to the core and with a good nose for talent and quality, he was the one that supported me in launching the then only 17-year old Valbo product onto the hierarchical first team squad.

We were rewarded quickly

And we soon became richly rewarded. Nicklas responded quickly to the increased confidence. He trained ambitiously, was challenging and competitive at the rink. Outside of the rink, he was happy, quiet and humble. It didn’t take long before both the coaches and the other players discovered his wonderful split vision, delicate wrists and ability to find ways to solve tight game situations on the fly.

Affected by criticism

His only weak point was a lack of explosiveness in his skating. Even the national team trainers who coached him as a young junior national team and regional camps player were skeptical about whether he could take the final leap into the senior elite. Nicklas was concerned by the criticism, although he kept it to himself. In official contexts, he holds much of himself hidden. The interviews with him are never controversial.  I was fascinated early on by his team spirit and his willingness to appreciate what made others good. Young Nicklas was actually a good mentor to the much older Mathias Månsson when they played together early on. Nicklas would tell Måsse when he did good things but did not hesitate to criticize him when he wasn’t sharp and focused enough for his taste.

A wonderful team spirit

I along with many others thoroughly enjoyed his straight forwardness coupled with his own self-criticism. Even when he played, on the bench he had opinions on both me and the game. No effort was too great when it came to securing a win for the team, and when I as a coach see that the player makes sacrifices, he has also gained the right to have opinions on others, even the coach. It was here I saw the comparison with Peter Forsberg. It is incredibly fun to see them both together in the Olympics, at the highest international level, on different sides of their careers.

Nicklas’ team spirit was also shown in his self-sacrificing defensive play and hard work in the not-very-glamorous game when the opponent has the puck. He is willing to take responsibility when the team is at risk. He is completely unafraid to lose. Nicklas sees opportunities and solutions when other players leave the responsibility to others. When a gifted player, that to some degree has it easy for himself, shows those characteristics my heart as a coach bleeds. And so does my human heart.

Who makes whom good in Washington?

On the 15th of May 2006 at the Skonto arena in Riga, Nicklas Bäckström became the youngest player in Tre Kronor history to make his debut  at the World Championships, in a game against Russia (3-3). And he was followed closely in the statistics by whom? Yes, that’s right- Peter Forsberg. As the Brynäs coach I followed him closely. Nicklas played for 18 minutes and 9 seconds, had 21 shifts and 2 shots on goal.

Following his first shift of the second period, which lasted 64 seconds, I noted the following: “Held on good to Ovechkin at the face off then put him down without taking a penalty, after that won a fight along the boards in the right corner of the attacking zone”.

Nicklas won his first duel against Ovechkin. And I think to myself “who makes whom good in Washington?”.

He is as good as Zetterberg

In Finland, I saw a more mature and more international player in Nicklas Bäckström. More mature in its authority and natural charisma. International in its improved skating and his improved shooting. In the Olympics Nicklas has shown that he now can create oceans of time with the puck as a leading player in the highest international competition.

Nicklas Bäckström is as good as his childhood idol Henrik Zetterberg.

I can safely say that Nicky is a world class player today. Before his career is over, we will find him among our best players of all time.

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