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Backstrom just one piece of Finland

Wednesday, 02.17.2010 / 8:28 AM / Minnesota Wild | Features
By Dan Rosen  - NHL.com Staff Writer
Minnesota's Niklas Backstrom sat out two weeks recently with a back injury and then an illness. The Finnish goalie was going through hockey withdrawal.
 
"You realize how much you miss the game when for two weeks when you watch it on TV," Backstrom told NHL.com.
 
Backstrom won't be watching the Olympics on TV, but he doesn't expect to get too much time between the pipes either.
 
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Miikka Kiprusoff is going to Vancouver as Finland's No. 1 goalie after sitting out the two previous Olympics in 2002 and 2006. Backstrom, in fact, is not even a lock to dress as Kiprusoff's backup with the way Antero Niittymaki has been starring for Tampa Bay.
 
You would think a guy who was a finalist for the Vezina Trophy last season would at least be one of the top two goalies for his own country. Backstrom, though, has had a topsy-turvy season adjusting to the Wild's new offensive-oriented system, while Kiprusoff and Niittymaki are statistically among the best goalies in the League.
 
"You practice to play and you want to play, but this is a short tournament and whatever you have to do to help the team you are ready to do it," Backstrom said. "If all 23 players do their roles perfect, it doesn't matter how big or small it is because your team will have a good chance to succeed. That's the biggest thing. That's the only thing on your mind. It's just a different thing when you play in the Olympics."
 
Clearly Backstrom is taking the high road instead of creating a stir, which would be against his personality anyway. But, you have to know his history to appreciate the stance he's taking on this topic.
 
Four years ago in Torino, Backstrom was the third goalie for Finland behind Niittymaki and Fredrik Norrena. Granted, he was playing in Finland's SM-Liiga and not the NHL, but he watched from the stands as the Finns made it all the way to the gold medal game before losing to Sweden.
 
Niittymaki was named the best goalie in the tournament, and there was arguably nobody happier for him on the team than Backstrom.
 
The guy never even suited up for a game, but it remains the most memorable two weeks of his hockey career. So, yeah, he appreciates the Olympic experience as much as he appreciates the individual games.
 
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"It was an unbelievable team, the chemistry on the team, we had fun at the rink and outside the rink," he said. "Just to be part of the Olympic experience, for every athlete, not just hockey, I think it is the biggest thing because you can represent your country. Just to be a part of that was huge for me."

It will be again.
 
"It's tough here to follow how other Finnish athletes are doing because you are so focused on your games and traveling, but it's nice to be at the village to bump into them and see how they are doing," Backstrom said. "It's about the atmosphere. It's hard to describe it, but you see all different athletes from different nationalities and you eat with them at the cafeteria and exchange stories. It's something really special."
 
Backstrom believes Finland has what it takes to make another special run, too. Fifteen players that won silver in Torino are back for the Finns, who have added players like Kiprusoff, Joni Pitkanen, Antti Miettinen, Valtteri Filppula and Tuomo Ruutu.
 
Eighteen of the players on the 23-man roster are in the NHL.
 
"We know we have a good team and we believe in each other," Backstrom said. "We have a good coach and good systems. We know how to play with each other. The only problem is there are eight or nine other countries doing the same thing. When it's the best-of-one anything can happen. I think everyone in our locker room believes."
 
They especially trust the goaltending. How could they not when Backstrom, who last season was third in the NHL in goals-against average and fourth in save percentage, could potentially be the odd goalie out?
 
"For me, it's big just to be a part of that team and to do what it takes to help the team," he said. "You see how Kipper is playing and how good he is. Just to represent my country and be a part of the team and do what you can is enough for me."




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