Dad's got Swede's Back

RANDY SPORTAK, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:54 AM ET

NEW YORK -- It doesn't matter whether you're a wobbly toddler first taking the ice, a teenager hoping to make the big leagues or a man in the NHL.

Having your dad at a game is special.

That's why Calgary Flames rookie centre Mikael Backlund had an extra spring in his step Monday.

Backlund's father, Jan, arrived in New York City with three friends from Sweden to see the Flames face the New York Rangers Monday night. They will follow Backland & Co. to watch them play the host New Jersey Devils and Philadelphia Flyers Wednesday and Friday, as well.

"It means a lot he's here. He's been the biggest sup-p orter for me, my whole career," Backlund said. "My mom's been important, too, but dads are different. It doesn't matter where I'm in the world -- he's always watching me.

"He's still trying to give me tips. I haven't always listened, but sometimes it's good stuff.

"Now, I have to tell him I have coaches to tell me."

The travelling party arrived in the Big Apple from Backlund's hometown of Vasteras Sunday and awaited the club's arrival after playing Sunday afternoon in Detroit.

"They went to five or six bars in the city to watch our game, but everywhere was showing football," Backlund said. "They saw the second and third periods."

And they took in the sights and some of what Manhattan has to offer.

"Not really," Backlund said with a laugh. "I asked them if they had any fun yet, and he said, 'We're too tired. It's tough on us. We're getting old.' They'll probably have fun one night. I hope so. Otherwise, I'll tell them, 'You went to New York and didn't go out. That's not impressive, at all.' "

Backlund's father came last season to visit him, but it went awry. Jan arrived with the centre's grandparents and planned to watch a series of games in Abbotsford, since he was with the farm team when the trip was planned.

However, Backlund was called up, and, after one game in Calgary, the Flames prospect went on a road swing with the club all the way to Florida, so the visitors only saw one outing live.

They sure picked a great location this year to watch a game, since even Backlund was jacked up to be playing at Madison Square Garden.

"Growing up, it's always one of the arenas you knew about, so that's cool. There's been a lot of stuff here," Backlund said. "And the Rangers have always been a special team, with a lot of history. It's not like I was a big fan, but it's neat. The city is amazing.

"My dad is actually from Leksand, which is a big hockey town, but that's about 5,000 people. For him, this is like a farmer in a big city."

Plus, Backlund's been playing well. The rookie has stepped forward while centre Olli Jokinen has been serving a suspension.

Even though three goals and five points may not be to everyone's liking, Backlund has received the coach's praise this season.

"I don't mean to put too much pressure on him, but he's probably been our best centreman. His overall game has been very good," said Flames head coach Brent Sutter. "He complements our other centres, so you can put him in situations which allows you to do other things with your lines.

"He's improved his intensity level as the season's gone on, but a young player will do that. When you're a smart player like he is and when you figure out the emotion level the league is, you pick it up pretty quickly."

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