Sunday

Ralph Backstrom

We'll never know how much Ralph Backstrom could have accomplished at the NHL level. The fine playmaker and two way center spent his first 13 seasons with the Montreal Canadiens helping the Habs win 6 Stanley Cups. But Backstrom was never better than a number 3 center in Montreal, always playing behind the legendary Jean Beliveau and Henri Richard.

After establishing himself as a fan favorite, Memorial Cup champion and arguably best junior player in all of Canada with the Hull-Ottawa Canadiens, Backstrom entered the league in 1958-59 and scored 40 points in limited ice time in 64 games with the Habs. Despite his lack of quality ice time due to the Habs incredible depth, the 5'10" 165 lb native of Kirkland Lake, Ontario earned the Calder Trophy as the league's best rookie.

Backstrom was a solid offensive contributor but was best used as a checking center by the team he grew up dreaming about. He was a very solid two way player. A magnificent skater, his best offensive season came in 1961-62 when in 66 games he scored career highs with 27 goals, 38 assists, and 65 points.

One has to wonder what heights Backstrom could have achieved had he had more of an opportunity to play on one of the top two lines, especially with the powerful Montreal Canadiens of the 1960s. But Backstrom never complained. Instead he accepted his role and excelled at it.

And because of that the already amazing Canadiens were that much better.

After 13 seasons and 6 Stanley Cup championships in Montreal, Backstrom went to GM Sam Pollock and requested a trade in 1970. The Habs sent Backstrom to Los Angeles, one of his requested destinations, in exchange for Gord Labossiere and Ray Fortin.

"It was very refreshing for me to play in Los Angeles. It was one of the most enjoyable times in my hockey career. The environment, the lifestyle everything seemed to be new and different," says Backstrom.

It was in California that Backstrom first began experimenting with the first inline skates.

"A friend of mine, Maury Silver, had a concept back in 1971 when I was playing for the Kings," recalled Backstrom. "His idea was to put wheels on the bottom of my skate boot instead of the blade. I remember taking my blade off and trying out the wheels. As a matter of fact I would train during the off-season with the so called super street skate."

Backstrom and Silver's "Super Street Skate" was the forerunner to the inline skate. While neither were involved in the evolution to the inline skate, Backstrom would later go onto be a big part of the success of Roller Hockey, serving as the commissioner of Roller Hockey International.

Backstrom played in 188 games in a Kings uniform before being traded to Chicago. The Kings traded him late in the 1972-73 season in exchange for Dan Maloney, fearing that Backstrom would sign with the upstart World Hockey Association. After only 16 games with the Blackhawks, Backstrom would sign with the WHA's Chicago Cougars. He would play 4 seasons in the WHA with three different organizations and was named WHA's most gentlemanly player in 1974.

Backstrom appeared in 1032 NHL games, scoring 278 goals, 361 assists and 639 points. He also appeared in 116 playoff games, scoring 27 goals and 32 assists. He added 100 goals and 253 points in 304 WHA games.

He would settle in Denver, Colorado. In addition to his role with Roller Hockey International, Backstrom became a long time coach at the University of Denver. He later became owner, president and general manager of the Colorado Eagles of the Central Hockey League.

12 comments:

Anonymous,  5:52 PM  

Ralph Backstrom, #6 for Les Canadiens, was my favourite player while I was growing up in Montreal. He was a very hard worker and the fastest skater. Wish him and his family well. Fond memories,

Anonymous,  5:14 PM  

Nobody, but nobody, could dig the puck out of the corner like Ralph Backstrom.

kelo,  7:02 PM  

Holy crap could this guy skate...slow skaters back then they say. I don't think so. I reviewed the 67 cup video on here and was just amazed at Backstroms speed.

Allain 3:22 PM  

I was a big fan of Ralph's when he played in Montreal. On several occasions he would win the faceoff cleanly and beat both the center and the goalie. I've seen others do this but not as often as Ralph. Excellent player....

Steve Pona 7:43 PM  

His impact on the game of hockey while Commissioner of RHI is largely overlooked. He was the innovator of 4 on 4 play (now used in overtime by the NHL) and, most importantly, the shootout to determine the winners of a tied contest. You want to continue the evolution of the game? Call Mr. Backstrom. I'm sure he has more quality ideas up his sweater sleeve.

Anonymous,  1:23 PM  

Ralph was my favorite becase of is name,Ralph Backstrom.Im just 49 (1960)but i remember him by my hockey cards by collected them.

mike wyman,  7:52 AM  

Greatest third-line centre in the history of the game. A Hall of Famer if he'd have played anywhere other than Montreal.

Habs got a bargain when he signed for a 500 dollar bonus. They were ready to go all the way to a thousand

Anonymous,  6:43 PM  

My Dad, a very astute hockey man, greatly liked Ralph Backstrom . . because Ralph played the game the way it was supposed to be played!

George S. 2:42 PM  

I was there when Ralph Backstrom put on roller blades in the parking lot at Culver Ice Rink in Culver City, California. They had a couple of guys sweeping the parking lot. Stu Nahan, a very popular sportscaster was there with a camera man. All of us watching were amazed how much speed Ralph was able to get on those wheels and then he hit a stone? pebble? and became airborne. That was the end of that session. A great memory.
George S.

johnson dan,  2:29 AM  

is Ralph still involved in hockey at any level..? Haven't heard of him in years. Where was he when the Rocket died, or the closing of Molson Stadium, or any of the other big Canadiens happenings of the past two decades. You see all the other former Habs at one time or another.Has he taken a vow of silence and seclusion away from the public eye?
Just wondering..always my favorite player !

Anonymous,  3:55 PM  

I played with Ralph with Lions Club in Kirkland. He was small but had incredible drive. My mom once said after watching us play "there's a boy who is going to go places" She was prophetic.

He was a nice kid and according to everyone who knew him, he remained that way.

Eber

cadvan3 11:33 AM  

Played a pick up roller hockey game at a local school when a local kid was demoing the in-line skates. We could tell even then that it was a vastly superior improvement over our roller derby skates. Too bad I didn't invest my paper route money in them back then. Pollack ripped off the Kings by trading Ralph to the Kings and stealing their first round pick either LaFleur or Dionne. Wow, Kings GM was such a sucker.

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