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Backstrom & Wilson Have ‘Always Been Close.’ Offseason Surgeries Brought Them Closer

Washington Capitals forwards Nicklas Backstrom and Tom Wilson were able to form a tighter bond as they faced similar timelines and recoveries after major offseason surgeries.



ARLINGTON, V.A. — With the sun rising and the rink empty, Nicklas Backstrom and Tom Wilson would make their way to MedStar Capitals Iceplex, taking the ice together well ahead of their Washington Capitals teammates to skate on their own as they rehabilitated from offseason surgeries.

Backstrom and Wilson had always been close, as Backstrom took a young Wilson under his wing when they first came into the league. Both underwent major surgeries in the offseason, as Backstrom underwent hip resurfacing surgery in June to address issues and the continuous grinding down of his left hip, while Wilson had ACL surgery on his left knee in May after tearing the ligament in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

While those surgeries were less than welcome for the two, the recovery and similar timelines led to a rewarding tighter bond for the two.

"He said his [best friend] used to be Mike Green, but now it's me," Wilson joked, adding, "But no. We've always been close, and he's always been a mentor and a leader for me, but we've definitely spent a lot of time together. I said a little bit yesterday that you never want to go through this. But to have a guy of his experience and his demeanor every single day… that's been great for me."

Despite the different procedures, the two faced similar roads to recovery. they had to start with off-ice conditioning before skating on their own and eventually joining their teammates for practices. They also faced similar timelines, as both took nearly eight months to get back up to full speed. That in itself was a major boost for Backstrom, who knew he'd have another positive presence around in Wilson.

"That helped a lot, too. I think we knew from the start that we were going to be back around the same time," Backstrom noted. "Having him around and working out together, skating together, it's been great."

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Their lengthy recoveries resulted in a lot of empty ice, an empty gym in the mornings and lengthy, grueling rehab, along with extended time working with strength and conditioning coach Mark Nemish. However, Backstrom and Wilson, along with Carl Hagelin, Connor Brown and other injured players, were able to lean on one another.

"It's been a fun little group. Not to say we were having fun, but it can be pretty dark times when you're by yourself working out every single day for five to five to eight months," Wilson explained. "And to have a little crew where we could just hang out and feel like we're still part of a team was really good."

Both were also able to share advice, have conversations and sympathize with one another through the "ups and downs" that come with their progress.

But, beyond having others around, Wilson said that Backstrom's leadership and drive ultimately pushed him to make sure that he was putting in a full effort day in and day out, while holding himself to a higher standard.

"There's not too many guys that every day I come to the rink, I have to be good. I have to push myself because I feel like I owe that to him," Wilson said. "I feel like I owe that to him as a leader to make myself better, and he just has that demeanor about him. Everyone around him wants to be better."

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Backstrom has seen that determination in Wilson, who also said that none of his recovery will matter if he can't get back to the form he was in last year, which led to a career-high 52 points and a trip to the 2022 NHL All-Star Weekend.

"He's motivated to get back out there," Backstrom said. "I think that both of us have benefitted from working out together."

Looking back, Backstrom and Wilson wouldn't want to find themselves in that situation again, but both feel that they're better for it. Not just because both are pain-free and ready to play the game they love again but because they've gotten to know one another even more.

"He's going to say he's fortunate [to have me here]. We would've both rather not be in that situation, but I was fortunate to have him here," Wilson said.

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