Boston Bruins

Emotional night for Backes as he returns to St. Louis with Bruins

Emotional night for Backes as he returns to St. Louis with Bruins

ST. LOUIS -- David Backes knows it’s going to be an emotion-filled moment when he takes the ice tonight at the Scottrade Center for the first time since leaving the St. Louis Blues organization, which he bled, sweated and played for over the last 10 years.

He played 727 games in St. Louis, eventually becoming captain and helping the team advance to the Western Conference finals last year. But last July 1 he signed as a free agent with the Bruins, and has become the same kind of emotional and physical leader he was for the Blues.

Still, this return to his adopted home of St. Louis has been on his mind for a while.

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“I’m going to try to control myself and my emotions, and live in the moment while enjoying every second of it,” said Backes, who has 11 goals and 21 points in 35 games this season with the Bruins. “There are a few times in your career when you get special nights, and tonight is going to be a special night for me, no question, coming back to a place where I spent 10 years. I’ve got a lot of great memories here. My wife and daughter flew in for the game, a lot of friends will be sitting with them and I just want to enjoy every second of it, be in the moment, not look past it and not take anything for granted.

“At the end of the day I’m going to do everything I can to help my team come out of here with two points against a team that I know is very tough, and has already beaten us once this year. But in the midst of that there will be some special moments throughout, and I want to enjoy every second of it. It starts with morning skate and some of the familiar faces around the rink.”

Backes has already crossed paths with his ex-teammates once before, when St. Louis came into TD Garden and defeated the B's, 4-2, on Nov. 22.

"It’s probably stranger for him than it is for us,” said defenseman Alex Pietrangelo, who succeeded Backes as Blues captain. “We're still here, and we're going on business as usual. Like I said to him yesterday, it just feels like you've been hurt for 40 games now that he's back here. I know for [Backes’ wife] Kelly it's a little bit weird too coming back and seeing everybody, seeing all the friends that they've known for a long time. I think he's adjusting. The way he plays, too, I think he'll go out there and do what he's going to do.

“We know he plays the game pretty honest. He keeps the other team on their heels. He plays the game hard, we know that. Obviously he was the captain here for as long as he was, so you miss that. You miss that emotional side of him being the guy.”

Backes has already shown a high motor and fiery, vocal leadership in just a half-season with the Bruins, and he sets the standard for the rest of the team by playing a physical game and consistently paying the price at the front of the net. The B's are expecting more of what they’ve come to rely on from Backes even as he readies for one of the most emotional games of his career.

“I don’t worry about what he brings to the table” said coach Claude Julien. “I know what he brings to the table every night. I expect him to do that again tonight because he does that on a regular basis. But that’s not denying that this is a big night for him. To come back to the place where he was captain and played for many years, there’s no doubt it’s going to be an emotional night for him. Hopefully we can reward him with a win here.”

So what happens when you put an emotional player in an ultra-emotional moment in his longtime NHL home for the first time? It could be something special.

Haggerty: Bjork looking like he's ready for his NHL shot

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Haggerty: Bjork looking like he's ready for his NHL shot

BOSTON – At this point in training camp with just a couple of preseason games to go, Monday night’s performance might have represented the exclamation point on Anders Bjork’s impressive drive to win an NHL roster spot. The 21-year-old Bjork has scored other goals during this preseason, but Monday night’s tally in Boston’s 4-2 win over the Chicago Blackhawks was his first while skating with prospective linemates Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand.

“I think we had more ice time together, which helped us get more comfortable and helped me kind of learn their chemistry a bit more,” said Bjork, who finished with 21 goals and 52 points in 29 games for Notre Dame last season. “Obviously, they have a ton of chemistry and they’re very easy to play with, of course, but you know, it’s nice to get more shifts with them and kind of pick up on their patterns and stuff like that.”

In fact, it’s become easy to see Bjork now winning the right wing spot with No. 37 and No. 63 after watching them work together in perfect concert for Boston’s third goal of the night.

Already up by a 2-0 score, Marchand turned over a puck in the Chicago defensive zone while on the forecheck hunt, and managed to work it over to Bergeron for a quick, backhanded saucer pass to the slot area. The alert Bjork stepped up into the high slot and one-timed the puck past Corey Crawford to give the Bruins a three-goal lead on Monday night, and allow all involved a sigh of heavy relief that Boston has found at least one rookie ready to hold down top-6 NHL job.

“He’s got that speed and the smarts to get open and then find the openings in the quiet ice. It was a great play by him just to get open, and for me to see him. He made it really easy,” said Patrice Bergeron. “He skates well, he made some great plays, we just need to keep talking and finding each other more and more on the ice.”

Given the overall scope of Bjork’s performance in camp, his steady presence on a line with Bergeron and Marchand during the preseason and his speedy skill set, the rookie is stating a strong case that he’s ready for NHL prime time. It would be a major training camp shocker to this humble hockey writer if Bjork is anywhere other than in the Bruins lineup when they drop the puck against the Nashville Predators on Oct. 5.  

“Yes, it does [look like Bjork is NHL ready]. The competition will stiffen for him and we’ll keep evaluating that. Still, he’s got skill, speed, and courage. He gets to the dirty areas. He’s hard to play against [and gives] second effort on pucks,” said Bruce Cassidy. “It’s not one-and-done with him. And for a young kid, that’s special, to be able to hang in and there and battle for those turnovers. That’s usually the part of the game they have to continue to grind on them.

“But he’s got a lot of that. Maybe that’s Bergy and March’s influence, I’d like to think they have some of that, because that’s their game. Marchy never quits. Bergy never quits. They’re going to be a hard line to play against if they are that dogged on the puck every shift.”

There are still two preseason games remaining before the real thing, so it makes little sense for the Bruins to pronounce Bjork ready for NHL duty until the time comes. Bjork’s combination of blazing skating speed, decision-making and confident swagger on the ice have pushed him to the top of Boston’s prospect list when it comes to being closest to play in the NHL. All were on display in his 12:48 of ice time with a goal and a plus-1 rating to go along with two shots on net, a hit and a takeaway while playing the fast, aggressive hockey that Boston prefers these days.

Bjork could have even had a second goal after he intercepted an Erik Gustafsson outlet pass, but missed the net high with a shot in close while going for his second goal of the game. All in all, it was another hurdle cleared by a talented Notre Dame standout that certainly feels like he’s destined to make the opening day roster, and equally ordained to start in a top-6 right wing role with arguably the best duo in the entire NHL.

It will be interesting to see just how good Bjork can be on a daily basis at the NHL level, and if he can get into becoming the 20 goals/50 points range player that should be in his future.  

Now it’s up simply up to Bjork to finish up strong in the preseason when he’s paired with Bergeron and Marchand, and continue on the straight-ahead path toward cracking the Bruins roster for years to come. It would appear he’s poised to “pop” in training camp just as Brandon Carlo did a year ago, and stand as one of those talented youngsters ready to help bridge the gap between talented rookies and established core veterans.

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