Lincoln, Nebraska is not necessarily a place you think of when you think of the word “hockey.” The vast plains of nothingness, grouped with cows and corn, however has proven to be a place that the best junior players in the country travel to year in and year out for the Lincoln Stars of the United States Hockey League. Keeping in mind that this hockey team plays in Nebraska, you’re probably thinking to yourself, “I bet nobody goes to those games, they’re more worried about football there!” You’d be wrong. Lincoln has led the league in attendance each of the past 6 seasons, and is currently leading this year. On any given home game date, you can find 4,000 rabid fans packed to capacity, and this has proven to benefit the Stars in terms of home-ice advantage. The arena is literally a barn. It was converted to an ice arena after being used for livestock shows during the Nebraska State Fair. The arena has proven to be a very intimate environment for the fans and the players that have played for the Stars over the years, one of those players being a recognizable name to any Blues fan- David Backes.
Backes started his career in Lincoln during the 2001-02 season and was an instant fan favorite. Thanks to his playing style, the same one that you see on a nightly basis today in the NHL, he became the talk of the team. Although the puck handling and skating was not fully developed yet, the demolishing hits were always there. Even at his young age, Backes was still one of the biggest and strongest pound-for-pound players in the league, much like today.
Backes was not all size and strength though, as he had a scoring touch that netted him 39 goals and 51 assists in 2 seasons for the Stars. All the qualities of a true professional are what catapulted Backes through the ranks of hockey all the way up to the NHL. I had the opportunity to ask David about his time in Lincoln last year during a player chat online, and he said that he misses the atmosphere of the building, along with the crazy fans. So do the fans. There’s no question that the atmosphere that surrounded Backes at such a young age during his time in the junior ranks contributed to his success at the higher levels.