Thanks to a slew of miscellaneous injuries, likely coupled with some plain old fashioned “I just don’t want to”s and some expiring contracts, most of the Flames invited to the 2016 IIHF World Championships declined to go. All but one, that is.
Mikael Backlund, who just wrapped up his first-ever totally healthy season in the NHL, was asked to represent Sweden in the tournament. He said yes, and now here we are: he’s the only Flame still playing.
Wearing an ‘A’ for Sweden just as he did in his last World Championships back in 2014 (when he helped his country to a bronze), Backlund was one of the better Swedes in the first game of the 2016 Worlds: picking up right where he left off for the Flames.
With Sweden defeating Latvia 2-1 in overtime, it was more of a goaltender’s game than anything else, although Sweden’s roster dominated – they just simply couldn’t get pucks past Latvian goaltender Elvis Merzlikins, who stopped 42 of 44 shots. Jakob Markstrom, meanwhile, stopped 20 of 21 for Sweden; both goalies were named the players of the game.
Sweden took a 1-0 lead just 2:52 into the game thanks to their captain, Jimmie Ericsson. Backlund, his linemate, had the primary assist on the play, which was ultimately still most of Eriksson’s doing.
Backlund was also on the ice when Latvia tied the game with just 7:31 to go in regulation. On the penalty kill, he went to block Kristaps Sotnieks’ shot from the high slot, but it went right past him and Markstrom, forcing overtime.
Gustav Nyquist eventually won it for the Swedes in overtime. While Backlund wasn’t on the ice for the game-winning goal, he was most other times. He played 21:31, the third most on his team (behind just Nyquist and Linus Klasen), and led Sweden with 30 shifts. He was a staple on both the powerplay and penalty kill – including creating two decent shorthanded chances twice on the same kill – and had five shots on net, tied with Nyquist for second on the team (Klasen led the way with eight).
In addition to playing with Ericsson, there’s a familiar #67 on Backlund’s line. Not Michael Frolik, obviously, who is not Swedish, but remember Linus Omark? Yup, that Linus Omark.
All in all, Backlund had a solid debut as one of Sweden’s leaders in the opening match of the 2016 World Championships. Hopefully it’s the start of him securing a World Cup spot – because if he keeps going at this level of play, he’ll have earned it.