Born May 1, 1984 (age 27) in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA
Center/right wing and captain of the St. Louis Blues
As the St. Louis Blues prepare to embark on a playoff run, their first in a while, let’s turn to their captain, who started playing back in high school. In Minnesota, high school hockey is kind of a big deal, and so was Backes. He was lauded with awards during his time at Spring Lake Park high school, including being named a finalist for Minnesota Mr. Hockey. He was captain of the boys’ team and his number–5–has been retired by the school. Then he played juniors with the Lincoln Stars for a while before being drafted in 2003 by the Blues. However, he decided not to go pro right away and went to college at Minnesota State University-Mankato. He wasn’t just there for the sports, though; he had a 4.0 GPA during his three years there and was studying electrical engineering. (Seriously, dude? I could only pull, like, a 3.7 in a non-engineering field and I wasn’t even playing sports as well!) But following his third season, he made the jump to the Blues and joined their AHL team for the stretch run of the 2005-06 season. He stayed with the Rivermen for the next season, but was called up in December 2006 and earned his first NHL point 44 seconds into his first NHL game. His first goal came just two days later.
Getting a new contract with the Blues in 2008 seemed to light a fire under him and he played all 82 games, netting a career-high 31 goals. He also had a four-goal game in April 2009 and the Blues went to the playoffs, although they were swept. He slumped a little the next season, but was given the A for 2010-11, as well as a new contract keeping him in Missouri until 2016. Oh, did I mention he also went to the Olympics and played for Team USA? He had a goal and two assists in six games and played on a line with Bobby Ryan and Ryan Callahan. (Hehe. Ryans.) Of course, he went home with a silver medal for the effort. The next season, he went to the All-Star Game and at the end of it all, he quite nearly won the Plus-Minus Award with his +32. During that season, the Blues traded away their captain Eric Brewer, leaving a C-shaped hole in the organization. In September 2011, the team named Backes their captain.
He was also given a lavish cover story in a recent issue of The Hockey News, spotlighting his on-ice work as well as his dedication off-ice to rescuing animals. His drive is such that he once served as a sort of midwife to a pregnant dog who ended up having 12 puppies. Over this year’s All-Star break, he used his newly-acquired pilot’s license to take a 700-mile jaunt to Houston and rescue more dogs. Technically, he and his wife Kelly own more animals than their community allows in one house–but I double-dog-dare anyone to complain about a big tough Olympic medalist hockey player who just so happens to have a heart so big that he wants to care for all of God’s creatures.