Morning Skate 131: Good and Bad from Carolina

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Morning Skate 131: Good and Bad from Carolina

By Joe Haggerty
CSNNE.com

RALEIGH, N.C. Now that its over and in the books, we can take stock with a little whats good and whats bad about NHL All-Star weekend in its latest form down in Hurricanes country.

It was largely a successful weekend with the turnout of Carolina Hurricanes fans and the great southern tailgating atmosphere outside the RBC Center prior to the game a wrinkle that 'Canes fanes have brought with them from college football and inserted them into hockey, where many traditional markets dont have the space or setup for it.Heres a quick breakdown:The Good: The NHL fantasy draft was an unmitigated hit and is something many of the other sports could learn from with their own over-hyped exhibitions. The fastest skater competition and hardest shot competition continue to be the stalwarts of the SuperSkills Challenge portion of the weekend. The goalie race was six different flavors of awesome. Carolina proves that a Sun Belt southern team can host an All-Star weekend and do it with the same effectiveness as the traditional markets. The Fan Fair portion of the events hosted by Carolina was excellent.The Bad: Much of the SuperSkills competition dragged and didnt really captivate. The All-Star Game on Sunday continues to be a gigantic bore with no real effort or intensity the two things that normally define what good hockey is all about. The NHL completely botched the media access portion of the event by allowing only red carpet type access to the players, which means that outlets spent good money to get access ranging only slightly higher than what the paparazzi receives. That needs to never happen again unless the NHL is happy with nobody covering them. Two words: Clay Aiken. Two more words: Guardian Project.On to the links: An interesting NHL player poll done by CBC and the NHLPA which reveals, among other things, that Zdeno Chara has the most fearsome slap shot on the planet, and that players really, really dont want to play for the Islanders. A really sad story about Rhode Island native and Harvard hockey alumnus Tommy Cavanaugh, who seemed to have everything but was battling serious mental illness throughhis entire life to a tragic end. Suddenly Mike Felger has developed some remorse and pity for Phil Kessel? Interesting he does thiswhen his NHL peers didnt seem to extend that kind of empathy orunderstanding during the drafting process. Bill Meltzers take at hockeybuzz.com on potential second-half shake outs for some Eastern Conference teams. The AHL All-Star game is in Hershey, a great hockey stop and an excellent place for the minor league hockey world to convene for the week. Jamie Arniel will participate in the skills challenge and All-Star game while representingthe Providence Bruins. A few more All-Star thoughts from Friend of Haggs (FOH) Yahoo! Sports hockey blogger Puck Daddy now that the weekend has come to a close. The Daddy battled marvelously despite a head cold that plagued him throughout the events. Fellow FOH Craig Custance from the Sporting News says that some of the other Southern Fried hockey teams could learn a thing or two from the Carolina Hurricanes franchise.

Joe Haggerty can be reached at jhaggerty@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Joe on Twitter at http:twitter.comHackswithHaggs

Bergeron and Marchand convinced Backes to join Bruins

Bergeron and Marchand convinced Backes to join Bruins

JAMAICA PLAIN -- For those excited about the idea of an intense, hard-hitting David Backes in a Bruins uniform for the next five years, you have Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand to partially thank.

Backes, 32, didn’t know either of them all that well prior to this summer, aside from his experiences on ice against them. But Bergeron and Marchand called Backes multiple times while recruiting him to Boston, and it was a major factor in the former Blues captain signing a five-year, $30 million deal with the B's.

“Being an outsider, we need to have a little bit of confession here that Marchand is the kind of guy that gets under everybody’s skin. I was no different,” said the 6-foot-3, 221-pound Backes, who has 206 goals and 460 points in 727 career NHL games, all with St. Louis. “But then talking to him a little bit in the interview process prior to July 1, I hung up the phone and had to take a deep breath and say to myself, ‘That little disturber, he’s actually a pretty good guy.’ Those guys end up being the best teammates.

“A guy like Bergeron, when you play against him [he's] always in the right spot, and is never making mistakes. Those types of guys, again, are guys you want on your team, and guys you want to go to war with. They’re All-World players, Bergeron is an All-World player. But he’s also a down-to-earth guy that puts his work boots on, takes his lunch pail and plays his butt off. He’s nice to the young kids, and he’s nurturing in helping them come along. I think you’ve seen in the NHL that you need a few guys on entry-level deals, or a few guys to outperform their contracts, in order to have success in the salary-cap era. That nurturing and mentorship can really foster those kinds of performances.”

While Backes went on to mention Zdeno Chara as another highly respected, formidable opponent with whom he’ll now share a dressing room, it was interesting to note that players who currently have letters on their sweaters, like Chara and David Krejci, didn’t play a part in the recruiting process. Instead it was the next captain of the team (Bergeron) and a player (Marchand) currently in the middle of negotiations entering the last year of his contract.

“I talked to both Bergeron and Marchand twice before July 1," said Backes. "Just the way that they spoke about their team mentality, and teaming up together and sharing the load of hard minutes that need to be played, and also sharing the load of the offensive necessities that a team has . . . those things just rang true to my beliefs of a team.

“You’re all equals whether you’re the top-paid guy, or the top-minute guy, or the low-minute guy, or the guy that’s playing every other game because you’re the healthy scratch in the other games.

“We all needed to be treated equal, and do whatever we can to support the next guy. When the next guy has success, we have to be just as happy as if we scored the goal. That’s the type of thing where, when you get that from the full 20 guys on the ice, it’s so tough to be beat. Those are the teams that win championships.”

It will be interesting to see just how much involvement Backes has with the Bergeron and Marchand combination. He could very easily be a right-wing fit with those two dynamic forwards next season, or he could be a third-line center behind Bergeron and Krejci and give the Bruins elite depth down the middle of the ice.

True to his team-oriented nature, Backes said he’ll be happy to play at either position and do whatever Claude Julien feels is best.

Backes introduces Bruins fans to his 'Athletes for Animals' charity

Backes introduces Bruins fans to his 'Athletes for Animals' charity

JAMAICA PLAIN -- David Backes probably could have opted to have his introductory press conference inside the Bruins dressing room at TD Garden, or maybe even in some finished part of the team's new practice facility in Brighton, which is set to open a couple of months from now.

Instead, the new Bruins forward met face-to-face with the media for the first time while taking a tour of the MSPCA and, in the process, introducing Bruins fans to his “Athletes for Animals” charity, a foundation that promotes rescuing -- and protecting the welfare of -- homeless pets nationwide.

Backes took pictures with a pit bull named Greta that’s been at the MSPCA Adoption Center for the last seven months looking for a “forever home”.

And as he spoke, it became abundantly clear that this is what the 32-year-old former St. Louis Blues captain is all about.

“[Taking a tour of the facility] gives you a warm feeling inside, and makes you feel like you’re already a part of the city while helping give some attention to the great work that they’re doing,” said Backes, the owner of four dogs (Maverick, Rosey, Marty, Bebe) and two cats (Sunny, Poly), who is house-hunting in Boston this week with his wife and 13-month-old daughter.

“Hopefully this will be just the beginning of our connecting with the community, and helping serve the people that are great fans of the Bruins and that will be watching us every night. [Hopefully] they’re watching us go on deep playoff runs year after year.”

Backes’ efforts with rescue animals gained national notoriety when he took time to help with the stray dog situation in Sochi, Russia during the last Winter Olympics. But the roots of his “Athletes for Animals” charity goes back to his college days at Minnesota State University, Mankato.

“The full story is that in college we wanted an animal or two, but it just wasn’t responsible because we were renting and the landlords didn’t approve," he said "We just didn’t really have the time or resources to support them, so we volunteered at the local shelter for the three years I was in school.

“When my wife [Kelly] and I moved to St. Louis, we wanted to connect with the community, be a part and use our voice to influence social change to do our part making the world a little bit of a better place. So we said ‘Why not connect with the animal welfare rescue community?’

“We absolutely love doing it: Walking dogs, scooping litter boxes and cleaning kennels. Let’s use our voice to kick this off and see what we can do, and it really just snowballed from that to then trying to tie other guys into it. It’s not limited to the animal stuff, but the animals that don’t have a voice, and the kids that don’t have a voice, really tug at our heart strings. We want to help them with this blessing of a great voice we’ve been given as professional athletes, and to really use that to give them some help.”

For these reasons alone, Backes is a great fit in Boston. The Bruins donate heavily to the MSPCA and were one of the first NHL organizations to come up with the Pucks ‘N Pups calendar, which each year features Bruins players and their dogs, or strays from the MSPCA, to raise money for the animal welfare organization.

To learn more about Backes’ organization, “Athletes for Animals,” visit http://athletesforanimals.org .