Shortly after he was summoned from the farm in January, Calgary Flames centre Mikael Backlund told reporters he hoped he’d never return to the minor leagues.
Funny how things change.
With the Flames’ AHL affiliate sharpening their blades for a first-round playoff series, the skilled Swede and fellow forward Brett Sutter anticipate they’ll be dispatched to Abbotsford shortly to help the Heat battle for a Calder Cup title.
“Now is a different situation. We’re done here so, of course, it’s going to be more fun to go down there for playoffs,” Backlund said. “It feels better going down now than if I’d been sent down when the Flames were playing. It’s better now.”
With the Flames set to conclude a disappointing season Saturday in Vancouver, Backlund and Sutter will likely be waiting for their buddies when the Heat return from Sunday’s regular-season finale against the Toronto Marlies.
Both would prefer to be getting a taste of spring hockey at the Saddledome, but with the parent squad flaming out of the Western Conference playoff race, a trip back to B.C. is the next best thing.
“Hopefully we’ll make a good push there and have a bit of a run,” Sutter said. “We’ve battled hard down there all year and we have a good group of guys and a team that can really make a push for it, so it’s gonna be fun. Playoff hockey is always fun. That’s what you play all year for, so it’s going to be a good experience.”
Despite a rash of injuries, the Heat are sitting in third spot in the AHL’s North Division and are likely to face the Rochester Americans in the first round.
Having two of their top forwards back from the big leagues certainly won’t hurt the cause.
In the meantime, Backlund and Sutter were anxious to capitalize on two more opportunities — including Thursday’s clash with the Minnesota Wild — to prove they deserve full-time jobs at the Saddledome next season.
Chances are, Backlund will be making his final return trip to Abbotsford.
For Thursday’s tilt, the 21-year-old pivot was skating between Jarome Iginla and Rene Bourque on Calgary’s top line.
“I’ve been feeling more comfortable every game. After the Olympic break, I’ve been feeling really, really good and playing a lot more confident,” Backlund said. “I want to play good and show them I’m fitting in with the team and this organization ...
“And that I’m good enough to play here next year, too.”