By Paul Silverfarb
This article originally ran in the Greenwich Post
It’s like a homecoming for Cos Cob native Sean Backman.
Backman, who became very familiar with the Nutmeg State, growing up in Greenwich and playing college hockey in New Haven, had his hockey career take him to places like Idaho and Texas. However it’s all come full circle, as Backman’s back home and eager to show off his stellar hockey skills to friends, family and fans throughout the state and surrounding areas.
“I grew up playing here my entire life,” Backman said. “I played my college hockey at Yale University, so after playing one year in Texas, it’s good to be back in Connecticut playing in front of friends and family. You’re a product of your environment, so playing here is what I know. I know Connecticut and I know the area. Being back home is going to be good.”
On Aug. 8, Backman agreed to terms with the New York Islanders organization on a two-way one-year deal, meaning Backman can play for either the New York Islanders or the American Hockey League’s Bridgeport Sound Tigers.
Last year with the AHL’s Texas Stars, Backman tallied seven goals and added 16 assists in 67 games. Earlier in the year he played in five games with the ECHL’s Idaho Steelheads, netting two goals and two assists.
In his first professional season, Backman said that while the players were bigger, faster and stronger than he saw at the collegiate level, it was amount of ice time in the season that was the biggest change.
“The amount of games that you play and the grind of the season is really different professionally,” Backman said. “Coming from the Ivy League season, we played 29 regular season games. In my first year in the AHL, we played an 80-game season. It’s a lot more tasking on your body and you have to take care of yourself, both on and off the ice. That was one of the things that I had to figure out. Another big difference was that players in the AHL do it for a living. That’s their job and the caliber of players are a lot better, so you need to into every game playing your best.”
While at Yale University, Backman was a captain of the team his senior year and earned East Coast Athletics Association’s top rookie honor his freshman year. While playing for the Bulldogs, Backman finished with 77 goals and 49 assists during his tenure with Yale.
Before Backman attended Yale, he played a season with the United States Hockey League team in Green Bay, scoring 29 goals and netting 27 assists for the Gamblers.
With the summer winding down, Backman is getting ready to report to the New York Islanders training camp, which gets underway Sept. 16. Although it’s a nervous time for Backman, he will know at least one familiar face, as left winger Matt Moulson, Backman’s brother in-law, will be returning to the Islanders. Last year Moulson played in 82 games for the Islanders and scored 31 goals while adding 22 assists.
“My brother in-law plays for the Islanders, so just going to training camp with him and being able to compete with him is going to be exciting,” Backman said. “Hopefully I do well in Bridgeport and get that opportunity to play in some NHL game next year is exciting.”
After working out for the Islanders and playing in a slew of exhibition games, the Islanders will make cuts to their roster. If Backman doesn’t make the Islanders roster, he’ll report to the Bridgeport Sound Tigers shortly after to begin camp with them.
While Backman has been working consistently on improving his game, he noted that getting through his rookie season last year helped him learn a lot about himself and what he needs to do to improve his game.
“Last year was a good year for me,” Backman said. “To have that experience playing professional hockey for the first time is very important. I am going to go into training camp this year with a lot more confidence than I did last year. I have been through the process and I know what to expect. All that is going to help me a lot going into this year. Being a college player is a whole different ballgame when you go from college to pro.”
In the offseason, Backman, who come into training camp as one of the smallest athletes on the ice at 5-09, has been hitting the gym quite a bit.
“Obviously I am a smaller player than some of the other guys out here, so in the summer I’ve been training really hard trying to get stronger so I could compete at those high levels.”
Growing up in Greenwich, Backman is quite familiar with the hockey rivalries in the area. He saw the battles the Islanders had against the New York Rangers, New Jersey Devils, Boston Bruins and Philadelphia Flyers. In fact, Sean’s father Mike Backman was a right winger for the New York Rangers in the early 80’s, so Sean knows first-hand how passionate the area rivalries can get.
“If I got an opportunity to play in Madison Square Garden, where my dad played, would be a dream come true for me,” Backman said. “It would make things fun, knowing I am playing for the Islanders and that he played for the Rangers. I am familiar with the rivalries in the area and would be a special treat for me to play in one of those games.”
While there are plenty of rivalries in the National Hockey League, the AHL has a plethora of rivalries as well. Backman will have the opportunity to compete in the battle for Connecticut when the Sound Tigers and Connecticut Whale lock horns this season. In addition, the Sound Tigers will face off against New Jersey’s AHL team, Albany Devils.
“I went to a few Hartford Whalers games growing up and playing in Hartford will be special for me as well,” Backman said. “I am not really all that familiar with the rivalries the Sound Tigers have, but once you get put into that situation, you learn to appreciate them.”
Playing 30 minutes up from his home in Bridgeport or an hour away from the Nassau Coliseum means that Backman will be having friends and family at a lot of his games this season. While that could equate to extra pressure for Backman to perform, he knows to take it one game at a time.
“Any time your loved ones and friends come to the arena, you want to perform well for them,” Backman said. “The fact that they are going to be there that much more, it makes me want to play better and play harder. I think having them be there is extra motivation.”