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Wild goaltender Niklas Backstrom making memories for his retirement

The Canadian Press
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The Hockey News
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Wild goaltender Niklas Backstrom making memories for his retirement

The Canadian Press
By:

The Minnesota Wild's 29-year-old rookie goaltender doesn't have any immediate plans to leave the NHL. He just thinks the way he's playing now might make for some fond memories later. "I have to enjoy every moment out there," Backstrom said during a conference call Monday after being named the NHL's first star for last week. "I just tell myself don't think too much, have fun.

"These are the games you are going to remember when you retire."

Backstrom was named the league's top star after winning all three of his starts last week. The native of Helsinki, Finland, had a 1.62 goals-against average and .933 save percentage as the Wild moved to within two points of the Northwest Division-leading Vancouver Canucks.

Backstrom has been carrying the load for Minnesota since starter Manny Fernandez suffered a sprained knee Jan. 30.

In the 11 games since, Backstrom has a 8-2-1-record. He's improved his overall record to 13-7-4 and ranks third among goalies with a 2.23 GAA and .923 save percentage.

Pretty impressive, considering not that long ago Backstrom believed his dream of playing in the NHL had passed him by.

"Five or six years ago I started to think 'I'm getting older and nobody is asking about me,' " he said. "You have in your mind that you're not going to get the chance here.

"It was really great last summer to get the chance to come over."

Backstrom was just a footnote when he signed with the Wild. The thinking was he might be a No. 3 goaltender at best.

He quickly made Minnesota GM Doug Risebrough look like a genius. Not only did Backstrom play well, he made a little history, becoming the first goaltender in the NHL's modern era to get his first two victories in relief.

There isn't a lot fancy about Backstrom's play. He's fundamentally sound and wastes little movement. He plays the angles well and doesn't give up many good rebounds.

"I haven't seen too many goalies that play so calm," Wild forward Mark Parrish told the Minneapolis-St. Paul StarTribune. "He doesn't get rattled, no matter what happens.

"He stays calm and plays the angles."

Backstrom speaks four languages fluently but isn't one to talk about himself. So far, living his dream has been as exciting as he imagined.

"It has lived up to it," he said. "Every kid back home who plays hockey, they dream about playing over here.

"Sometimes when you get older and you didn't get the chance to come over here, you think you've missed your chance. Then it's fun when you get a chance, even f you are a little bit older.

"It's awesome to be here and I'm enjoying every day."

Backstrom was 32-9-10 with a 1.68 GAA and a .939 save percentage for Karpat Oulu in Finland last season. He led his team to consecutive league championships (2003-04, 2004-05).

Growing up, he followed the Edmonton Oilers but his favourite goaltender was Patrick Roy.

The Wild are in a tight race with Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton in the Eastern Division of the Western Conference.

Heading into Monday night, Vancouver led the division with 77 points. The Wild were second with a 35-23-5 record for 75 points. That left them seventh in the conference, just two points ahead of Calgary and nine in front of Edmonton.

Minnesota opens a crucial three-way Western Canada swing Wednesday in Calgary, then plays in Edmonton on Thursday and Vancouver on Sunday.

"Every night, every game is really important," said Backstrom. "It doesn't matter if you play at home or on the road.

"We have to try to play the same way we'be been playing the last couple of week and fight for every point we can get."

Boston Bruins centre Marc Savard and Tampa Bay Lightning centre Brad Richards were named the NHL's second and third stars.

Savard and Richards each recorded two goals and seven assists in four games to lead the league in scoring last week.

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Wild goaltender Niklas Backstrom making memories for his retirement