Despite Critics, Backstrom Knew He’d Play Again; Capitals See Rejuvenated Nick
The Washington Capitals see a rejuvenated Nicklas Backstrom as he makes his return from hip resurfacing surgery. Here’s what he and his teammates had to say.
WASHINGTON — After undergoing hip resurfacing surgery in Belgium, Washington Capitals forward Nicklas Backstrom saw the headlines and heard the critics that claimed that his career was likely over. The experimental procedure is difficult to come back from, and the two NHLers before him who had tried couldn't make it all the way back. He wouldn't accept that.
Hip resurfacing surgery was his last resort, the final option after trying just about everything else to play and live without pain.
"It was either that or skate on one leg again," Backstrom admitted.
Still, Backstrom had no doubts and always knew, before the surgery and after, that he would play another NHL game. So, he blocked out the outside noise and got to work.
"I knew [on exit day] that I could return when I talked to you guys," Backstrom said, adding, "It was more about when and how quickly I could recover."
It made it easier for Backstrom, who was behind the scenes rehabilitating off the ice, to say that he was more than optimistic he would be back on the ice before the end of the season. And now, at the 43-game mark, he is ready to draw back into the mix and make his season debut on Sunday against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
The road back wasn't an easy one for the Swede, who spent a lot of time working out on his own and conditioning off the ice before finally getting to skate on his own in a tracksuit. Then, it was time to put on the gear and take things from there, upgrading to team practices, non-contact play and then eventually, full contact and battle drills.
"I'm not going to put pressure on myself," Backstrom said. "All I can say is, I feel great, and as I said earlier, the biggest thing for me is I have no pain, that I'm able to skate and move the way I want to. Hopefully, that's enough."
As Backstrom prepares to make his season debut, his teammates see a rejuvenated player, one who is living without chronic pain for the first time in years and able to enjoy life both on and off the ice without worrying about his hip.
"Day-to-day, he's much happier. You never want to see a guy going through pain, and I think every team there's a guy or two that you're like, 'He's just not right' or 'He's battling.' The last little bit, the last season with Nick, he's who he was mentally when I first got here," Tom Wilson, who will also make his season debut on Sunday following a long road back from a torn ACL, said. "He's happier, he's loving the game again and he's a hockey player. That's what he knows. That's why he's worked so hard to get back. He loves the game, and it's been cool to see that again."
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With the surgery, Backstrom said he is pain-free for the first time in years, and that it has not only allowed him to skate without hurting, but it has also meant everything with regard to going about his life.
"It was a life-changer for me in daily life," Backstrom said. "Just to pick up socks, tie my shoes, stuff like that, and play with my kids. I couldn't really do that, either. It helped me a lot functionally, and I'm happy about that. That part, I'm feeling great. Now it's just the next step to get me back to the ice."
Head coach Peter Laviolette also said that the 35-year-old has taken a huge step forward in his life following the procedure.
"This is the best I've seen him just from a life standpoint, from a hockey standpoint, the smile on his face viewpoint," head coach Peter Laviolette added.
Overall, the surgery has worked wonders for Backstrom, and as he returns to the ice, his teammates see a player who has a renewed joy for the game. One thing that hasn't changed though: Backstrom's dedication and passion.
"[He has] a drive… he's extremely motivated. He wants this really bad," Wilson said. "Not many people have done it before. And I'm excited for him to go out there and show what he can do. He's starting to look really good."