ST. PAUL, Minn. — Minnesota State is looking to capture its second straight WCHA Final Five championship Saturday night at the Xcel Energy Center.
The Mavericks’ most notable alum warmed up the ice for them this afternoon, but the team’s fans will hope to get more favorable results than David Backes’ St. Louis Blues.
The Blues were beaten 6-3 by the Minnesota Wild on Saturday afternoon in the same building. Backes registered an assist in the game. Although the results weren’t favorable for him, the Minneapolis native was more than happy to talk about the success his alma mater has been having recently.
“It’s pretty exciting to see where that program has come,” he said. “I never sniffed a Final Five and they’re a No. 1 seed.”
Backes scored 46 goals and had 73 assists during his three seasons in Mankato. The Mavericks steadily improved during Backes’ stint with the club, winning 10 games his first year, 13 his second and 17 his third, but that doesn’t compare to where the program is today.
Backes said that he joked with assistant coach Darren Blue about why they never got to stay in the Saint Paul Hotel, a luxury hotel in downtown St. Paul, like the team did this weekend. He said Blue responded by simply saying, “We were never the No. 1 seed for the Final Five.”
“All things in perspective, it’s pretty cool to see them here,” Backes said. “I got to watch them practice. It brings back a lot of great memories. To think it was 10 years ago that I was there, time flies. I’ve relished every minute in the pros and that I had at Mankato. It’s flying by. I wish them the best, hopefully they can win another Broadmoor [Trophy], get a good seed and break that egg in the national tournament and get a few wins there and see what happens.”
Since leaving Mankato a decade ago, Backes has gone on to be one of the main players on one of the NHL’s best teams. He broke into the NHL during the 2006-07 season and has since become the captain of the Blues.
Backes missed Friday night’s Mavericks game because of a family birthday party and will miss Saturday’s because the Blues will be on their way to Detroit, but he said he enjoyed seeing people from Mankato this weekend in St. Paul.
There were 11 players from the WCHA playing for the Wild and Blues on Saturday and college hockey players litter the locker room for both teams. Backes said that, even though it’s tough with the season overlapping, they all try to keep up to date on their former teams.
“It’s tough with how busy we are, typically playing Fridays and Saturdays, to follow up with them but we’ve got a few characters in here that played college hockey that keep asking how everyone’s doing, trying to rub it in,” he said. “Having bragging rights all year has been pretty fantastic; I owe a lot to those guys. [Jaden] Schwartz from [Colorado College], they’ve kind of had a down year. He’s normally the one asking and now I get to ask a little bit more how CC’s doing.”
Injured Minnesota Wild forward Ryan Carter, who also played at Mankato, said his wallet was a little fatter after Friday night’s game. Backes said he anticipates making some wagers with his teammates once the NCAA tournament rolls around.
“We’ve got [Denver] and North Dakota and few other guys in here that played,” he said. “We’ll see if we get those opportunities, especially this year I’m going to maybe double down and get some money back from previous years.”
The Mavericks have yet to win a game at the Division I level of the NCAA tournament.
Backes played for Troy Jutting, not Mike Hastings, but said that he has met the Mavericks’ current bench boss and had glowing reviews.
“I’ve actually got to golf with Hastings and have a couple meals with him,” he said. “He’s a great hockey mind, a great family man and you can see how far he’s taken the program since he’s taken over.”
He also had high praise for the players that will try to raise the Broadmoor for the second year in a row.
“The results don’t surprise me,” Backes said. “They’ve got a great group of guys down there. They work their butts off and they’re well coached and they’ve done a heck of a job.”