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NHL’s Backlund gets a head start on return

CALGARY – With COVID-19 restrictions not as tight in Sweden as in North America, Calgary Flames forward Mikael Backlund is ahead of the game on and off the ice.

The 31-year-old centre from Vasteras skated for the second time in as many days Thursday, in addition to getting on the ice a couple times in April.

“There’s no ice in my hometown, so I have to drive a little bit,” Backlund told Calgary media Thursday during a conference call.

Backlund says he’s been working with a skating coach, but wants to get a group of skaters together.

“I’m going to see if I can get more guys out next week. If not, I’ll skate with him again,” he said. “The closer we get and if we do play, I’ll probably start driving to Stockholm or something like that and try and skate with those guys there and get some scrimmages and that kind of stuff.

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“I think in a couple weeks there will be ice in my hometown as well.”

Public health authorities in North America shut down arenas, stadiums and public recreation facilities to curb the spread of the virus. So unless they have access to private ice, NHL players based in Canada and the U.S. have been off skates since the league paused the season March 12.

The NHL’s relaunch plan includes training camp for teams and finishing the playoffs later this summer.

Flames general manager Brad Treliving awaited word Thursday on start dates and when the Scotiabank Saddledome might be open to players again. NHL players in Canada are encouraged to train at home in keeping with social-distancing messages.

Backlund says he’s worked out with a personal trainer three days a week for the last month and a half, and alongside another Swedish player.

Sweden’s approach to the pandemic that kept schools, business and restaurants open has been both praised and criticized.

“I don’t know if it’s the right way or not, but so far, knock on wood, my family and friends have all been healthy,” Backlund said. “It’s been nice compared to when I was in Calgary where I worked out in my basement, in my home gym.

“You see more people out and about than we did in Calgary and what you read about in the world, especially other countries here in Europe who were totally shut down.”

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The six-foot, 200-pound forward averaged over a point per game in his last 18 before the NHL pressed pause.

Backlund was Calgary’s leading scorer after Feb. 1 with 10 goals and 12 assists. He’ll try to reclaim that form in training camp, whenever that happens.

“I am going to accept that training camp is not going to be perfect. It’s been a long time away,” he said. “Just make the most of camp, get back the timing and get back to the NHL speed.

“Who knows? Maybe I’ll have a great camp. I hope I’ll find the ‘A’ game right away, but if it takes one or two games . . . it’s been a while.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 4, 2020.

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