Mikael Backlund insists that Sweden doesn’t produce soft hockey players anymore.
“We have a lot of good players,” said the first round pick of the Calgary Flames in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft. “One of the best hitters in the NHL is Niklas Kronwall. There’s no chicken Swedes anymore.”
Backlund and his Kelowna Rockets have built up a 3-0 series lead against the Calgary Hitmen heading into Game 4 tonight (8 p.m., Shaw TV, Fan 960) at Kelowna’s Prospera Place.
“We have to have a lot of respect for them and not look too long forward,” said Backlund, whose team is one win away from qualifying for the Memorial Cup in Rimouski, Que., from May 15-24. “I think we have a lot more in us.”
Backlund started the season playing for his hometown Vasteras squad before suiting up for Sweden at the 2009 World Junior Hockey Championships in Ottawa.
Afterwards, he remained in Canada and even played a regular season game with the Flames before completing the WHL campaign with Kelowna.
“I would have preferred to have him here the whole year,” said Flames GM Darryl Sutter. “It was a really good move for him. At the same time too, it wasn’t just about bringing him to North America. He wanted to be in a good situation. We were really happy when Kelowna wanted him and it’s worked out.”
Needless to say, Backlund is extremely happy with his decision to join the Rockets.
“It’s been an awesome time here in Kelowna,” said the 20-year-old Swedish forward, who’s not afraid of the physical style of play in North America.
“It’s probably been the best hockey time of my life. The WHL is professional and a really good league and Kelowna’s a great organization. They take care of me a lot. I’m just really fortunate to be here.”