When the applause died down after David Backes
was named the number one star of the night in his team’s
6-4 win over Wisconsin last Friday, the Minnesota State
Mankato junior forward heard a familiar refrain. As he donned
headphones for a post-game radio interview, a few dozen
Mavericks fans still in the rink chanted, “One More
Year! One More Year!” again and again.
“It’s definitely not the first
time I’ve heard that,” said Backes, who had
two goals and two assists in the defeat of the Badgers.
“It feels good to hear that they want me back.”
It’s not a huge surprise that the 6-3,
210-pound Backes, who was picked 62rd overall by the St.
Louis Blues in the second round of the 2003 NHL draft, led
the Mavericks offensively in the regular season, with a
dozen goals and 28 assists. For some, the biggest surprise
isn’t that he’s considering leaving school early,
it’s that he’s still in Mankato as a junior.
A highly-touted recruit and one of the leading
scorers in the USHL before college, Backes was the team’s
second-leading scorer as a freshman (behind offensive star
Shane Joseph) and led the team with 40 points as a sophomore,
prompting many to speculate he’d sign a pro contract
last summer. With his third regular season of college hockey
now complete, the talk of Backes bolting for NHL money is
heating up again. Backes says he’s made no decisions.
“When it comes right down to it, I’ve
got to do what’s best for me,” he told INCH.
“That might mean coming back, but it also might mean
The Blues, for their part, know they have
potential in Backes.
"We like him," Blues general manager
Larry Pleau told INCH. "He has size and a good shot,
and those are some assets that are definitely NHL. His skating
definitely has to improve some, but he really seems to have
some good instrincts for the game."
While some potential pros sign to get away
from the grind of going to class, those who want Backes
back in purple next season say academics are their best
hope of keeping him in Mankato for his senior year. Backes
is an electrical engineering major with a 4.0 average and
is reportedly very committed to getting his degree. And
Backes says his acquired affection for southern Minnesota
might play a role in his final decision too.
“I love it here, and the fans have been
great,” said Backes, who earlier this week penned
a letter published in the Mankato student newspaper, thanking
fans for their support throughout the season, and mentioning
his hope that it continues next season. “I really
like this community and would like to live here someday
when I’m done playing, so I’d have no qualms
about coming back here for another year.”
AND HEARD IN THE WCHA
DECC doings: In the second
half of the season, on-ice wins have been hard to come by
for Minnesota Duluth. The Bulldogs head into this weekend’s
season finale at Minnesota having won just once in their
past dozen games. But the program and the backers of college
hockey in the Twin Ports got a huge victory off the ice
On Tuesday, Duluth voters approved a referendum
to raise the local sales tax on food and beverages, with
the additional funds to go toward the construction of a
new waterfront arena. The project, which is expected to
cost more than $60 million, is not a done deal yet, but
supporters agree this is a significant step toward replacing
the WCHA’s oldest arena.
“This is a very positive sign that Duluth
has come out so strongly for the DECC,” State Senator
Yvonne Prettner Solon told the Duluth News-Tribune.
“This makes it easy for the legislators from this
area to go down to St. Paul and say, ‘Our community
strongly backs this project, and it is a project that will
benefit all of Northeastern Minnesota.’”
Great Weekend Getaway
Cloud State at Wisconsin (Fri.-Sat.) Alaska Anchorage and Minnesota State Mankato
are idle during the final regular season weekend and
at least four more really have nothing to play for.
But there’s plenty at stake at the Kohl Center
when Wisconsin hosts St. Cloud State. Despite losing
a valuable point last weekend when they tied at home,
the Huskies still have a shot at home ice, but probably
need a sweep. The Badgers are desperately seeking
their swagger, or a minimum some dose of confidence
to carry them into the playoffs after going 3-7-1
in the last six weeks and watching the MacNaughton
Cup slip from their once rock-solid grasp.
While You’re There: It’s
not anywhere near as hyped as the one in Minnesota,
but the High School Hockey Tournament for Wisconsin
will be held this weekend at the Alliant Energy Center
in Madison – formerly known as Dane County Coliseum
when it was the home of Badger hockey. Eight teams
(Eau Claire North, University School, Stevens Point,
Kettle Moraine/Mukwonago, Fond du Lac, Wisconsin Rapids
Lincoln, Middleton and defending champ Superior) will
square off, with the top two meeting for the state
title at 2:15 p.m. Saturday.
A nod to
Division III St. John’s University coach
John Harrington (father of Gopher defenseman
Chris Harrington) for his unique way to honor his
team’s seniors last weekend. Harrington began
the Johnnies’ game versus Gustavus with a deliberate
too many men penalty so that all nine of his seniors
could say they started their final home game.
been hints dropped that Denver coach George
Gwozdecky’s ejection from last Friday’s
game may have been an intentional move designed to
motivate his club. Hey Gwoz, stick to what you do
best, namely winning championships, and leave the
“getting tossed on purpose” stuff to hoops
coaches and overweight baseball managers.
The tax increase, which would raise $1.2 million
per year for the projects, still needs approval from the
State Legislature and Governor Tim Pawlenty, and the city
is asking the state to provide more than $33 million to
cover half of the project’s total cost. In his initial
state funding recommendations last month, Pawlenty did not
advocate money for the DECC project, but told INCH last
week that he may support it in the future if the referendum
More than 60 percent of those voting cast
“yes” votes, with strong student support and
high turnout at the on-campus polling place.
“I thought it would be closer than that,
but it’s perfect. We needed some good news,”
said Bulldogs coach Scott Sandelin, who lives in nearby
Hermantown, Minn., and therefore couldn’t vote in
the referendum. “The whole community needs something
like this, not just for the hockey part. I think we could
even bid on a (NCAA) regional down the road.”
If approved by the legislature, the local
sales tax on food and beverages would increase from 9 percent
to 9.75 percent. The school and the city have plans for
a new building with more than 6,600 seats to be built on
the site of the current DECC parking lot. If funding is
approved this spring and construction progresses as scheduled,
the arena would be open for the start of the 2008-09 season.
FRIES AT THE BOTTOM OF THE BAG
• Alaska Anchorage will open the playoffs
at Minnesota on March 10 riding a 13-game winless streak.
Although that sounds like a long drought, they’re
nowhere near the team record for rough sledding. One would
have to have a pretty short memory to forget the 35-game
winless skid the Seawolves endured in the 2002-03 season.
• After a several-week funk in January
and February, Colorado College heads into this weekend’s
home-and-home series with Denver having won six of its last
seven. A sweep of the Pioneers and the Tigers could finish
as high as a tie for second place in the WCHA standings.
• By recording another Saturday tie
last weekend at St. Cloud State, the Huskies from Michigan
Tech have now earned at least one point in eight consecutive
WCHA series. It’s their longest such streak by the
Huskies since the 1992-93 season, when they went 11 straight
WCHA series without being swept.
• With last weekend’s sweep at
Alaska Anchorage, Minnesota claimed its first outright WCHA
regular season title since Doug Woog, Larry Olimb, Darby
Hendrickson, Trent Klatt, Doug Zmolek and company did it
in 1991-92. In claiming his fourth career MacNaughton Cup,
Gophers coach Don Lucia becomes the first head coach in
league history to win WCHA titles at two different schools.
Lucia became the first coach to claim three consecutive
WCHA titles when he led Colorado College to the Cup in his
first three seasons there.
• Stop us if you’ve heard this
before, but North Dakota has a pretty bright future if its
freshman class decides to hang around Grand Forks for a
few more seasons. Of the nine goals the Sioux scored in
last weekend’s split at Denver, eight of them were
scored by rookies. Jonathan Toews, the freshman from Winnipeg
who has pro scouts raving, had two goals in the Friday win
and one in the Saturday loss, and was named the WCHA’s
Rookie of the Week for his efforts.
of sources were utilized in the compilation of this report.