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 second part of the podcast is below.
If you missed the first part of the conversation click here
Let’s talks some about the travel. Back in the old days, teams flew commercial, but it’s not like that anymore. I remember once when I saw you in Philadelphia, you even got to do the airport security check in at the arena, with personnel from the airport.
We have great conditions when we travel and the planes are great. And as you said, when we travel between American cities we usually have the check in at the arena after the game, that way things run much more smoothly.
And then the bus takes you right out to the plane?
Exactly. It makes it easier and it saves us some time going home.
And it’s not exactly a crowded economy class on your planes.
Landing in Tampa. photo credit: Washington Capitals
Yeah, I’d say so. we have a nice plane and seats.
How do you pass the time during the many and long trips?
I sit at one table playing cards with some of the guys. It’s good to have something to do actually.
Who takes part in the card playing?
Mike Green, Ovechkin, Orpik, Brouwer and Marcus Johansson.
Who is the best player?
We play a game called snarples and you can’t really be good at it. A different person wins every time. At the moment Brooks Orpik is winning a lot.
Is there a lot of money at stake?
No, there isn’t.
Brooks Orpik is a big, mean d-man and when you faced him, you can’t have thought that he was the nicest of teddy bears. You must have been pretty pissed at him on occasion, right?
You could have cursed at each other on the ice.
Yeah, that could have happened.
So how is it when you are suddenly in the same dressing room. Do you talk about things that have happened, or do you just laugh it off and move on?
No, you don’t. Now when we are on the same team we are friends.
But you can joke about it sometimes?
Yes, but we haven’t really done that just yet and we never did say all that much to each other. I’m not really a person that trash talks a lot. It happens on occasion but not that often.
You guys are flying all the time, are you comfortable up there, during turbulence and such. I think Wayne Gretzky admitted at one point that he wasn’t completely comfortable with flying.
I have no problems with takeoffs and landings. I don’t think anyone thinks it’s fun when it’s bumpy up there, so if I’m afraid, it’s about that. When I was younger, I was more afraid of flying then I am now. I have gotten used to it over the years.
It becomes a habit of course and it’s more dangerous to drive than fly.
Yes, that’s what they say, so I guess you have to trust that.
Have you ever been on a flight where people got really scared?
No, not really. It’s always windy outside of New York and Boston. I’m used to it being a bit bumpy there. No nightmare flights for me so far. Knock on wood.
How do you like the “on the road” lifestyle? Some people hate living in hotels and others love it. I remember Foppa liking it a lot, to live well and eat well.
I don’t have any problems with going on road trips and living in hotels, but at the same time, it is nice to sleep in your own bed. You get used to it, I mean, as you said, we live in good hotels and have good planes. You get used to it pretty fast and it becomes a routine. You create routines for yourself and you do pretty much the same thing every time you go on a road trip: you get in, relax for a while and wait until six-seven, then you go out for dinner, then back to the hotel and sleep. Same thing every time.
Do you ever get to do something other than that?
When we were in Canada this time we had two days in Calgary and the whole team went curling one day. That was pretty fun.
Curling in Calgary. (photo credit: Washington Capitals )
Have you tried it before?
I’ve done it once before and I was disgustingly bad at it, but I was a bit better this time around. I like to watch curling on TV during the Olympics, especially since Sweden is very good at it. It feels like it’s Canada and Sweden that are competing for the gold all the time. As I was saying, curling is huge in Canada and the curling club we were at were apparently the most popular club in Canada when it comes to visitors and getting ice times. I suppose they really like curling in Calgary.
But you did put some rocks in?
Yes, our team finished in second place actually.
Were any of the other Swedish guys on your team?
Do you have any favorite cities in North America that you like to visit on road trips?
LA is always fun, since we are not there very often. It’s a cool town, it’s huge and there’s always nice weather. Everything on the west coast is very pretty, like San Jose. If you look at it from a hockey perspective I’d say Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver. Vancouver is incredibly pretty, it’s one of the most beautiful places I’ve been in. I remember Vancouver from the Olympics too, it’s really an incredible place.
Milan Jurcina vs. Nicklas Bäckström during the Vancouver Olympics. Vancouver( photo credit: Bruce Bennnet )
Other things you can do, golf?
Last year we had time for some rounds on the western road trip: LA and San Jose. We had a great round at Stanford University.
Have you ever done anything a little bit more outside the box? I remember Markus Näslund telling me that when Vancouver were in Washington, instead of a normal practice Mike Keenan told them to quit whining and took them to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall, pointed to the wall with the names of the fallen soldiers, and asked if they were still feeling sorry for themselves, which they obviously weren’t.
Nothing on the same level as the Vietnam Wall but now this season Barry Trotz is a person that…we got the opportunity to see how things work in the Navy as a preseason team building activity.
On a marine base?
In Annapolis about 45 minutes from here. We walked around and got to see how they worked and studied. We had lunch with what I think was 5500 marines. It was pretty cool when they rung a bell, everyone was quiet and we got introduced and after that they were allowed to get food. It felt like in a movie. Things like that are a unique experience for someone from Sweden like me, to see how America works in that way.
It was very instructive for us, too, to see how things work in military and Navy, that you have to work together, like we have to do on the ice. We listened to a great speech from an old marine. He talked about how it was during the Vietnam War. It was truly inspiring for us and very illuminating.
You have done some charity work on the streets in Washington.
I have done some different things.
You transported food to homeless people living on the streets.
Exactly, it’s a thing we do within the team and I personally wanted to do it. I felt that it was important to me. I felt like it was important for me to come out and meet those people and really understand how they view things. When you know that you are living a privileged life, it’s important to get out and talk to people and see the world through their eyes for a moment, and maybe hear their thoughts on what went wrong in their lives.
How did they react when a hockey star was serving them food all of a sudden?
There were only positive reactions. They thought it was a bit comical that a hockey player was helping out with the food. But I hope they thought it was a good thing.
S-Army photo credit: Washington Capitals
This is something they are really good at in North America, isn’t it? Different charity projects like visiting children’s hospitals. Something that Markus Näslund and Peter Forsberg have been getting a lot of attention and praise for bringing with them back to Sweden, and rightfully so. I forgot the name of the organization?
Nicklas Bäckström playing with the Icebreakers against Västerås in August 2010.
Right, that is something they have been inspired by from their time over here, because this is something you do every so often.
Yes, and it’s very important to understand that we might be role models for some people, kids in the surrounding areas where we live, and because there are a lot of hockey fans in different cities I think all teams do different charity projects: visit children’s hospitals and do things with season ticket holders, feed the homeless, different things all the time. It’s important to give back to people that mean a lot to us.
At the same time, sometimes you met very sick kids, kids that might even be facing death. It can’t be an easy thing to do for someone like yourself that has a small child of your own. It’s got to be very hard emotionally.
It’s very emotional, actually. You can see how the children are really suffering. Some of the time, the parents are there too, you can see how much pain they are in, and you feel it inside yourself as well, so it’s very emotional.
A visit from you can really mean a lot.
That’s what you are hoping, that it can bring them joy and maybe get them to laugh a little.
From August this year: Nicklas and Brynäs’ mascot Tiger visits 16-year old, Amani Mend. “My brother Ibrahim said that he would come in via the emergency room to meet you”, said Amani. (photo credit: Conny Svensson)
Even though they are having a hard time.
Back to hockey. You were talking about equipment and using a new stick every game, there are even those who use a new stick for every period of the game. What’s the worst you have seen when it comes to skates and sticks in your surroundings?
Well, one that is going through a lot of sticks is Ovechkin, of course, since he is shooting quite a bit. I would say that he goes through a stick per period. Everyone is different, some are very picky and they want things done in a very specific way. Others are more relaxed about it.
On a game day, you come to the arena, and then what?
I do pretty much the same thing every time: I arrive on game day, I change clothes, get to to my stall, throw my pants and shoulder pads on the floor. I take a new stick, prepare it so it’s freshly taped. After that I fetch three waters and put them at my spot.
Three water bottles?
Yup, three water bottles.
And it’s gotta be three? Two or four won’t suffice?
Eh, I don’t know why it’s three. Maybe because it’s one for every period? After that I stretch some, get some treatment, go to meetings; before the game it’s usually a power play meeting and one on how we should play, everyone attends that meeting.
They show you how the other teams PK and PP works and other details in their game.
Exactly. We see how the opposing team plays and what we should do playing against them, so that we can win the game. Those meetings are usually over pretty quickly because everyone have thing to do, like warming up.
How much do the coaches talk about specific players on the opposing team?
It happens occasionally. Some teams have some players that you have to look out for, like Crosby and Malkin.
If you are meeting Detroit what would coach Trotz say about Henrik Zettterberg?
He would say that we should keep an eye on him when he is on the ice. He is that type of player that you can’t let him out of your sight, then anything can happen.
Do you get information about how he has been acting the last couple of games and whom he has been playing with?
Well, not the statistics?
I mean more how things have looked on the ice. In addition to amateur scouts, all teams also have several pro scouts that look at the opposing teams.
So before every game a scout has given a report on how the opponent is going to play to Barry Trotz.
Exactly. They also get video of their previous games that they break down and analyze. Like tomorrow when we play Detroit, there’s Zetterberg, as you said, and also Datsyuk that is very highly skilled and technical.
Can it be the other way around too. If they have a rookie for instance, that you might be able to take advantage off? It’s not just talk about the good players.
It’s all about those special players.
But it can be special in both a positive and a negative way?
Absolutely, of course it can. But at the end of the day it’s still mostly about how the team plays: their system, breakouts, forecheck, and things like that. If there is a special player he mentions that, but there’s no specific film on that individual, it’s more about what they do as a team.
Is there one last meeting between warm ups and the actual game?
The final meeting is one and half hour before the game begins, so an hour before the on ice warm ups, and after that we play soccer and some players do some other things, like stretching.
You are part of the circle that always play soccer.
Yeah, I like to play soccer as the warm up.
When do things get serious before the game?
I would say that it happens just after the soccer is over.
Just before the on ice warm ups.
Exactly. People get dressed, everyone is sitting calmly and 10 minutes before warm ups we usually turn off the music. At that point everyone is focused and serious. Then there is some pep talk and then we go out on the ice. I would say that it’s after the on ice warm ups, with eight minutes left, he comes in with some last words of instruction, who will be the starters and just some more pep talk.
We have all seen Bruce Boudreau getting mad at the team in the winter classic series. You must have experienced coaches getting really angry at you.
Yes, it happens but I think that the worst one is actually the one you are talking about. He did that a couple of times that year. If I’m going to be honest with you, I understand why he did that, we didn’t play good at the time, and I think he was in his full right to do so.
How common is it?
When we play poorly, it happens and sometimes when we play poorly we need a wake up call that makes you come alive and realize that enough is enough. Once you are at that stage, it’s easiest to use big letters and big words.
Have you gotten one from Barry Trotz yet?
We haven’t gotten a real Bruce Boudreau style of speech yet, but he wasn’t to happy with us after San Jose won a period 3-0. But it’s all part of the game.
Some coaches like to punish their players and have practices without having a puck ever touch the ice surface. The type of practice where you just wait for the players to pass out from exhaustion. I was at a practice like that when Peter Popovic played for the Rangers, and he told me afterwards that his legs were burning. I can imagine that you have had practices that you weren’t exactly thrilled to be part of.
We had a practice like that when we lost 5-0 to Buffalo, that I believe was dead last at the time. this was also under Bruce and we were truly awful. I think we were suppose to have the day off but we had to practice instead. There were no pucks in sight and we skated for an hour straight, and it was no short distance either, it was the full length of the ice. So I understand Popovic, my legs were really burning after that.
Do you talk to each other at all during something like that?
All you can do is to put your head down and go, there’s no other way out. It’s the type of style they have over here.
At times it might even be a good thing.
Absolutely. I actually think we won big the next game. It’s a wake-up call.
A practice I thought was pretty funny that has nothing to do with skating was during my first year over here. I had a friend here that never been to practice before, and at the time we had Olie Kolzig as our goalie. He has quite the temper and I think it was during a warm up drill that someone shot a puck a little bit higher than he should have, up towards the head. Kolzig started by shooting pucks at him and after that he took his stick and just hit at the crossbar repeatedly. I think he broke it 10 times so at the end he was left with just a tiny little stump.
After practice my friend asked: is it always like this in the NHL?
I just laughed and said yes.
With you being new, you must have been a bit wowed yourself.
Yes,it was a little bit: what is happening now? But I had seen him for a few practices already so…You know to only take shots along the ice when he was in goal.
That players fight during practice happens too. But that’s maybe more of a preseason thing?
Now that’s true, but…
It’s when you have like 50 players on the ice and some of them are fighting for a contract.
Yes, it mostly happens in scrimmages. During the regular season I have maybe seen it happen twice, so it’s not very common. But it does happens of course, everyone wants to win, and practice is no exception. Sometimes you get pissed at someone but once you are off the ice it’s usually fine.
How aware are you about the situation for the players that are not getting a sweater every night? It’s not something you have to worry about but there are always a few players on every team that are in that situation.
I think everyone is conscious about that. The feeling I get on how things work with Barry is that there is no guaranteed spots for anyone in the lineup, you have to earn it. Even if I have a spot in the lineup right now I think it’s helpful to constantly reset things. Say I had a good game, but the next day at practice, I’m back at zero again. I have to work hard so that I can perform in the next game. I think it’s so important to push yourself, that is something I always strive for.
How about pushing other people?
I think it’s important to talk, to always communicate with players. We have a great group of players. We know each other well, so we can talk about everything. Whenever there is someone that’s struggling with not making the team every night, or if someone is feeling down, I think we are good at talking to each other and being aware of what’s going on with people. It’s not just about me talking to someone, it’s that everyone on the team is doing it, and that everyone can talk to everyone. It’s very important.
With the risk of sounding like a grumpy old man, sometimes I think that some of the rookies think that everything is so easy and that they are the center of the universe. How often do you come across kids that maybe need to be taken down a notch?
It happens, and I think that young players often…not that I’m that old…
But you are not that young either.
I’m in the middle.
Anyway, it feels like the players that get drafted get talked up by media, and things like that and they feel great hearing that, of course. It’s on the older players on the team to make sure that things are done the right way, that they get started at the bottom and work their way up. When I got over here as a nineteen year old, I remember Olie Kolzig and the other older players on the team were very firm in making sure that the unwritten rules for rookies were followed.
Well, you are not lying on the massage table during your first year. You have to go outside the rink for that.
Pick up the pucks at practice.
Pick up pucks, always standing at the back of the food line, always making sure that everyone else has their plates full before you take food for yourself.
Did you mess up as a rookie and break any of the rules?
I’m not going to sit here and say that I always did the right thing as a rookie, but I was pretty shy back then and I mostly kept a pretty low profile. Also, I was really bad at English so maybe that’s another reason.
What’s the worst thing a highly drafted rookie can do wrong at training camp?
I know that a lot of players get irritated at the things I mentioned. Those are the things they have to think about. But that’s not to say that you shouldn’t try to make an impression on the ice as young newcomer to the league. That’s something they really should do. Be bold enough to play their own game but when they are not on the ice, they can be little more low key.
If Ovechkin is banging his stick on the ice, demanding a pass maybe they should shoot themselves instead?
Then you should chip the puck down in the corner so that he has to skate for it.
The young players shouldn’t have too much respect for the star players either.
Absolutely not. They should play their own game and do what they are good at and don’t be afraid to show themselves on the ice, things I think our rookie Andre Burakovsky has done a great job with. I had never seen him play before training camp. His playing style is great, he isn’t afraid to crash the net and his shot is good.
He hasn’t made any of the rookie mistakes?
No, he has handled himself perfectly. He is a great guy.
It’s always fun to talk about what people are saying on the ice. Can you tell us about a time when you got mad at a referee and and he got mad at you?
I don’t remember which year it was, but one of my teammates shot the puck around the boards and I was standing right beside the referee and the puck hit his skate so I didn’t get it. Instead the opposing team got hold of the puck and they attacked the other way, and then…
You are allowed to say bad words on this podcast.
I am allowed to do that? Than I shouted at him: what the fuck!
And then he skated after me and shouted: Fuck you Backstrom!
The referee said that?
The referee said that. Than I turned around and just skated away without saying anything. It was an experienced referee and…
The referees sure can talk for themselves
Yeah, I kind of like it. We shouted at each other for awhile and that was that. I like that style, it happened and then it’s over and that’s that.
Which NHL player runs his mouth the most?
I think it’s Steve Ott in Saint Louis. He talks a lot on the ice.
What about the Swedish players?
I think the Swedish players are generally pretty quiet on the ice. We usually just say hi when we meet on the ice.
Have you been angry enough to curse in Swedish to another Swede?
No, it has never happened, actually. Not that I can remember anyway.
How much talk is there?
That varies a lot from player to player. Some are very good at it and doing it gets them going, their adrenaline gets pumping when they talk, and they become better players by doing that.
I got a feeling that Ovechkin is talking a lot?
Yeah, it happens that he talks a little. Sometimes he has some words for the referees, too.
During a heated playoff game and you are skating by the other teams bench you get to hear a lot of things, right?
It depends a lot on how you are as a player, if you yourself are a talker, or not. If you have done something dirty, maybe, then you hear about it pretty fast. Especially during the playoffs when there’s so much to lose.
If you score a pretty goal on Henrik Lundqvist during the regular season you can send him a text about it, but during the playoffs that would never happen.
During the playoffs you are quiet. But after the series is over you can do it again. It’s just a thing you do, it’s nothing you think about.
How strong is the desire to win? I know you told me once that you were watching a final, or even some victory celebration and said that I want to be there. How often do you think about that on the way to practice?
It’s the only thing I want. It’s the only thing that motivates me. It’s the thing that makes me love coming to the rink every day, and it’s the reason I love this sport. That’s the thing you strive for. It’s a very long season and you need some luck to get there, but it’s the thing that motivates me. I want to win the Stanley Cup, that would be an enormous experience.
It’s hard to even imagine how it would be.
Can you bear to watch it when it’s on TV?
I watch some of it.
But it’s not like you pull out a bowl of popcorn and sit down and watch an entire game?
No, not really.
The last game in the Kings-Rangers final for instance?
I watched one game in the series but I don’t remember which one it was.
Then you are a bit jealous?
Of course you are. You want to be there so badly yourself.
I think you told me once that it was hard for you to watch because you were so jealous and wanted to be there yourself.
Yes, that’s exactly how it is. You know that there are good teams in the final, so it’s there you want to be yourself to compete for the Stanley Cup. That’s the reason I play at least.
So how good are the Washington Capitals this season?
We are not ranked very high, and that’s perfect. I think we will surprise some people. We are keeping a low profile.
It’s might be easier said than done when you are as good as you are, and as spectacular as Ovechkin is. Maybe he learned some things from his gold at Worlds. He got to finish the season with a triumph even though the Olympics wasn’t much fun for him either.
He is a fun player to watch and fun to play with although he could pass the puck some more.
He is an incredible player and an amazing goal scorer. His release is incredible, there’s no one in the league that has a better wrist shot or one timer for that matter. And his one timer can come from anywhere, too. Oftentimes his shots are head high on the goalies and they are not easy to catch.
If you missed the first part of the conversation click here