Expressen’s hockey reporter Magnus Nyström made a stop in Washington during his recent NHL trip. He sat down with Nicklas Bäckström and they recorded a 65 minute podcast together, on what I think was October 30, or thereabouts. The main subject of their conversation is what everyday life for a NHLer is really like. I divided the translation into two parts. My translation of the first part of the podcast is below. Click here for Part II.
I’m sitting across from Nicklas Bäckström in a conference room in Washington’s practice facility that’s actually not located in Washington?
No, it’s a bit from downtown Washington. All the players live here in Virginia. They built this place five or maybe six, seven years ago.
The location is a bit special, on the top of a shopping mall and parking garage.
Exactly. That’s what makes it unique and pretty cool that you drive to the top and park your car and then there’s two rinks here. It’s great actually.
The idea is to try to describe in detail what an everyday life is like for an NHL player with practices, traveling and games. But first how do you feel now about what happened in Sochi with missing the final and everything, after having had some time to reflect on it?
It’s nothing to dwell on really. I know that me, myself, and Björn [Waldebäck, team doctor for Tre Kronor] made a mistake together, and at the same time, there was a lot of turbulence at the time, and you have to try to put it behind you and move on. That’s what it’s all about. Directly after the Olympics the league started up again, and then you just had to forget about it and move on, and now when some time has passed I don’t think a lot about it actually. I made a mistake and I’m taking responsibility for that. Now I’m just looking forward.
Playing with Tre Kronor in the future, like in the World Cup that might happen in 2016, is something you would still be interested in?
Absolutely. I don’t have any negative feelings about the national team. I still think it’s incredibly fun to put on the Tre Kronor jersey. That’s big and I would be looking forward to that.
I’m fascinated by this, the first time we met after the Olympics, the ability you professional athletes have to put things behind you and move on. I think that we common people can learn from this attitude.
I mean, it’s easy to imagine that supporters, especially for club teams that can ruminate on adversities for years on end and think: What if we won that game? What if we made the playoffs? But you are sitting here now and when we talked previously and are talking about that final as something you have put behind you. You don’t go around being sad about missing the final, you just think about the next game.
Yeah, but I think it’s important that you as a person, and especially for someone that’s a hockey player…eh, for example: If you had a bad game, for instance. You had a bad game and they show you video the next day, and you get told that you maybe have done something wrong in one of the video clips. That can happen in a everyday normal job too, that you maybe get yelled at by your boss. Instead of dwelling on why that happened, you have to try to learn from it and move on. I think that is a thing you have live with in hockey, you have to take some criticism and then you have to move on and learn from it. Maybe that’s the mentality you have to have in this sport.
It’s just not working, you can’t feel sorry for yourself for doing something wrong. You have to let it go, try to think positive and look forward. I think that’s a really important part of the sport.
How cool would it be to play in the World Cup?
That would be incredibly fun. It’s a classic thing.
It’s the same thing as the Canada Cup and would be played in August of 2016.
Yeah, it’s classic thing that was around when I grew up that just disappeared. That’s what it felt like at least. If they can find a good combination with the World Cup, Worlds and everything else, I think it can be great.
People get excited about the salaries you receive. I’m of the opinion that you deserves every penny you get, at least the best players do. You are the ones that make people buy tickets, buy merchandise and come to the games. You are a good investment for the clubs. It’s a little fascinating when you look at the numbers, do you know what you make per game?
I have no idea.
You make over half a million per game and that’s pretty good.
Yeah, it’s amazingly good.
It used to be that you got a check in a mailbox, maybe that has changed?
It used to be so earlier, that you got live checks. Now you still get checks but you can have them wired directly to your bank account if you want to.
It had to have been a bit bizarre in the old days, I mean you don’t want to lose a check like that.
Yes, it was, I almost did that actually.
Back when I first got over here when I was young and very dizzy, maybe.
I have learned that you have to be on top of things like that. I put it in my car after practice one day, and then I found it a couple of weeks later under the car seat.
Wow, that made you a bit stressed out, I’d imagine.
Yeah, it really was. But fortunately there were no harm done.
Do you ever reflect on the fact that you are making a lot of money. In Sweden it’s all very hush, hush when it comes to salaries, whereas over here everything is out in the open for everyone to read.
At the same time, I think it’s good that it’s public knowledge and that everyone knows what players make. And we do make a lot of money, there’s no reason to deny that and we have it really good. At the same time, there’s a lot more work for us than what people think, and how mentally demanding it is to play a long season. While we make a lot of money, it’s what the going market value is for the sport. That’s the lay of the land, that’s how society works. That’s nothing we are in control of, it’s the league that has set up the ground rules.
You have to work hard for the money.
Yes, I think so. As I said earlier, we make a lot of money, we do, and that not something I’m trying to hide.
You train pretty much every day and have over 200 practices a year, about 240 practices per season. How much do you have time to learn things during practice with the game schedule you have? Describe the difference between practices here and back home, where there are fewer games.
I can walk you through a day, how it looks? We always starts with video at nine, and after that..
And that video session is about the game you played the night before?
Exactly, it’s from the previous game, who did things right and who did things wrong. What we can do better, stuff like that. We also have discussions in the room.
But it’s the whole team that looks at the clips?
So it can happen that the coach says: hello Backstrom, you should have backchecked there, in front of the whole group?
Exactly, and that’s something you just have to take and learn from and move on.
But there can be times when you aren’t exactly happy to hear that?
Of course you get more disappointed with yourself, like damn, why didn’t I do that. It’s just part of it.
So first a video session?
Always first video and then we have gym after that for about 30-45 minutes. Everyone has their own program that they go through. Some days we have upper body, some we have lower body: legs and things like that, other days we have like abdominal exercises.
But it’s lifting weights, and not being on a treadmill or sitting on an exercises bike?
No, it’s more weights and sometimes this year, when we have played back to backs, we have started doing yoga, actually, and I think that’s been pretty damn great.
Do you have the concentration you need for that?
Yeah, but, when you come in in the morning, and maybe are a bit tired after two days of games, it’s pretty sweet to relax and really stretch/do some strengthening exercises. It feels really, really good and it’s very relaxing. Just what the body needs sometimes.
And after the gym?
After the gym. we get ready, tape the sticks, yeah. You have about 30 minutes to put on the gear after that so you sit down at your stall and start to get changed.
Do you have any special routines? I guess there’s a difference between practices and games, too.
Yeah, there’s a difference for me. At practice I don’t care at all, actually, about how the equipment is. I need a fresh taped stick, that’s it. I think I use one stick for the whole year.
Just one stick per year. Wow!
Yes, for practices. But for games it’s different.
How is it for games then?
I take a new one every game.
A new one very game?
I do actually.
So if you make the playoffs it’s 100 sticks per season.
Mmm, that sounds about right.
What do you do with all those sticks then? Some get busted of course.
Yes, some break.The club often takes the sticks and use them for charity and things like that, so they move on, in one way or the other.
But the lone practice stick must become a favorite.
Eh, that’s what’s strange, for games I’m a stickler for details and want it to be taped to perfection, but for practice, the stick I have, I use. Then I’m not such a perfectionist.
Pretty often when a player miss a play on the ice they look down at the stick as if it’s to blame, but it almost never is.
Yes, 99.9% of the time, it’s not the stick’s fault. So, it’s more a thing people get hung up on.
Nice to have someone to blame.
So onto skating sessions.
We have had a lot of different coaches these last few years. The practices have been very different depending on which coach we have at the time. Last year, we could have a 20 minute practice with no intensity whatsoever. Very easy, just feeling things out type of practices. This year, we have a 45 minutes to an hour long practice, with a pretty good intensity throughout, and much, more skating.
What a difference!
Yes. I don’t know how it will be further into the season when we play more games, but so far I like it. It’s a good tempo and we have a lot of play exercises. We try to replicate how it will be during games. If we, for example, play Edmonton tomorrow, we maybe go through how they like to play, and we work on things that will help us when they are out there. The whole practice is very tactical.
Different methods for different coaches, and Barry Trotz choose that way.
If you were to compare a practice here to how you did things back home in Sweden, what’s the biggest difference?
I would say that back when I played with Brynäs, there was a lot more focus on warm up than 2 on 1 drills.
Can you say that it’s more like things you do in the gym here, a little bit, more warm ups and things to get you going?
Exactly. And it’s more straight to working on breakout drills here. It’s the whole five man unit, the whole line that starts together at once. That’s where I think there are some differences, some more speed here and more skating here, too.
On the other hand, if you are going to practice things that are supposed to be game like, you have to do it with tempo, otherwise it’s pretty pointless, don’t you think.
Absolutely. That’s correct and especially if you consider that we play games every other day, we can’t be on the ice for two hours every day. So it’s important that we cut to the chase, and it’s something you get used to. I mean, throughout the camp we have practiced breakouts and 3 on 2’s all over the ice, so, it’s good, you learn from it.
After practice, you aren’t finished after you hit the showers. Like today, when I got here you had two meetings.
Exactly. First we had a meeting where we were going through Arlington laws with some policemen, so that we know what the rules are like about the cars here, you have to have the right stickers on your cars and on the license plates. So everyone has their things in order in case you get pulled over. Basically information that is good to have.
And then you had a hockey meeting with the coach.
Was the focus on the games that had been played, or for future games?
I would more say that it was more of a review on how we have been playing through the first eight games. What we can improve on and things like that.
And the feeling is that you are somewhere in between. You are not super excited but not angry either? It’s been a bit up and down?
Yes, you can say that. We have four wins and we are 4-2-2. I would say that we are ok with the results so far but not more than that.
Maybe I should say that you will play a few more games before this is published, so if you score four goals in game, and we don’t mention it, the listeners will know why. It’s not that we forgot that it happened.
That I would score four goals? That would probably never happen.
Don’t say that.
But we are ok with the result so far. I think we have something good going here, and I think we will be better and better going forward.
Every day when you are home in Washington there are some hours away from home that you spend preparing yourself at the practice facility, aren’t there?
I would say that I’m at the rink 4-5 hours every day. That includes everything: morning video session, gym and ice. After that you have meetings, stretching, taking care of the body, making sure that you have as much time as you need for the best recovery. Pretty often we have lunch too. We have breakfast in the morning and lunch at the practice rink. I think that it is very good that we put in the hours.
Is the lunch as good as back home at Gavlerinken in Gävle?
Gavlerinken does have really good food. It’s real good but it’s good here too, but a bit different, another type of food but still good.
You play a crazy amount of games. In November, for instance, you play 14 games in 30 days, and it’s not like you just play in the next town over either. Like when Brynäs plays a Stockholm team where it’s just to jump on the bus for a short trip.
It’s pretty hectic, especially when we have a lot of road games, too. It’s something that you might not understand if you haven’t played in the NHL and have had the opportunity to experience this life. We travel a lot, it’s games every other day and we always leave the day before the game.
So when you arrive it’s always the day before the game?
Yes, we usually get there in the afternoon so that we can eat a good dinner and sleep and then it’s practice in the morning, the game and after that we leave for the airport.
It has to have happened that you have woken up in the morning and had no idea where you were?
Yes, it has happened a couple of times, like, which hotel is this? Many times I have been mistaken on room numbers, too. Yeah, right, it was in the last hotel I had that number.
I remember when I did a story on Eric Lindros, once he said that the thing he did most, other than practices and play games, was to sleep. He tried to take a nap every day and sleep as much as possible. It’s all sleep, sleep, sleep. It’s not very glamorous but he said that he had to do it. Is that just him, or is it true for everyone?
Yeah, it’s especially like that on game days for me. Those days I sleep almost two hours every day after practice. If you don’t do that, you get too tired. It’s a plain and simple as that, especially when you play every other day, it has to be that way. When I don’t have a game, I try to hang out with the family. If I would nap on those days, I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night, so I try to stay awake until 10-10:30 at least.
That can’t be easy to do when you have a young child like you do. You have a girl that’s how old now?
She’s one year old.
Then you don’t always get to sleep as you want to. How is that going?
It’s going pretty good. Our daughter actually sleeps good at night, as well as during the days. It’s just great, it’s nice to be able to go home and think about something completely different than hockey. I need to step away from the game for a few hours and instead spend the time with my daughter and girlfriend. It means a lot to me.
Your daughter doesn’t care how the game ended.
Exactly. That’s what’s so great about it, that you can play with something else for awhile.
Do you ever pregame nap together?
We did that when she was younger but..
Now she won’t lay there for two hours?
No, she can’t really sleep with me anymore. She is sleeping in her own bed now.