by Steve Conn, Yale Sports Publicity Director
It’s not always easy for fans to know when Sean Backman is part of a Yale scoring play. Trying to distinguish the blur of No. 16 whizzing by can make you uncertain of what you just saw. The senior forward turns a change of possession into a shot as fast as anyone in college hockey, and his change of scenery from Nutmeg State prep phenom to collegiate standout was as smooth as his stride.
Backman, who has 62 goals, sixth best at Yale, is the school’s active career leader and one of the primary reasons the Bulldogs have become one of the best programs in the East.
“He epitomizes what we want from a Yale player,” said Keith Allain ’80, Yale’s Malcolm G. Chace Head Coach of Hockey. “He approaches every day with tremendous energy and enthusiasm, and he plays full-out every single shift.”
The 5-foot-9, 175-pound Ezra Stiles College resident didn’t miss a beat after scoring 29 goals in 57 games with the USHL Green Bay Gamblers in 2005-06. Backman, who attended Avon Old Farms, easily adjusted to the speed of college hockey and notched 18 goals in 29 outings as a Yale freshman, one shy of the school’s rookie record. He went from hitting the net once every two games in the USHL to having a .602 goal per game average in ECAC Hockey and sharing conference rookie of the year honors.
He is not the first one in the family to play hockey in the Elm City. Sean’s father, Mike Backman, played five seasons for the American Hockey League’s New Haven Nighthawks while going back and forth from the parent club, the New York Rangers.
Expectations for the son of an NHL player are often unrealistic and difficult to live up to. However, Backman didn’t hear people talking at the rinks and wasn’t concerned what others expected of him.
Backman said, “I was naïve about those expectations, and maybe that was good. I wasn’t going to let that effect what I do.”
Mike Backman skated in the International Hockey League at 23, and his path to get there was very different than the one his son has taken. Mike, the Hockey Director at Stamford Twin Rinks and a salesman for Interstate Lumber in Byram, Conn., had other ideas for Sean.
“My dad knew the value of a good education,” said Sean, referring to Mike’s post-hockey life.
The winner of the Order of Old Farms (classroom, community, athletics) at Avon, Backman was rewarded on and off the ice for taking the “collegiate route” over becoming a young pro. He has been on an all-conference team all three years and was ECAC Tournament MVP after netting a hat trick in the 2009 championship game victory. He had a similar effect on his Avon team with two New England titles, including one with Backman as captain.
The Backmans live in Cos Cob, Conn., close enough to Ingalls Rink for Sean to have seen Jeff Hamilton ’01 and Chris Higgins ’05 a number of times. Sean had ample opportunity to imagine what it would be like to be a Bulldog.
“I always wanted to come to Yale, it was my dream… and the other schools knew that. Once I got the [test] scores I needed, it was a no-brainer for me,” said Backman, who has been ranked among the top Division I players in goals per game the last three seasons.
It’s not surprising that Backman, who is averaging seven shots on goal per game and has a season-high of 11 against Brown, leads the team in shots taken every season. In addition, he has increased his shot average per game by one each season since coming to Yale.
“My dad told me the guys with the most shots are always the ones with the most goals. When you put the puck on net, you never know what will happen,” said the senior Bulldog, who wants to be remembered as a productive player, part of the core of team leadership, an energy guy and someone who “stirred up” things on the ice to get teammates going. “A lot of my shots that went in should not have been goals.”
A shot on goal is never a bad play, but there are some shots that should not be attempted. And there are times when Yale’s veteran gun can be almost as dangerous to his teammates as he is to opponent goalies.
“He’s not afraid to bury his head and take a slap shot… and he’s not always looking to see who is in the way,” said senior captain Ryan Donald, who has been hit with friendly fire at practice a number of times but is still impressed with Backman’s skills. “He’s a shooter. He hides it [puck] well and can get off a hard shot from any pass.”
“Shooting the puck is a lost art in this sport, everyone wants to make cute plays,” said Yale assistant coach Kyle Wallack. “Sean will shoot from the bleachers.”
Backman, a semifinalist for the 2009 Walter Brown Award as the top American collegiate player in New England, also wants to be remembered as a guy who did everything he could to help his team win, and not just a conference title. “I want to be remembered as a senior leader on a team that won a national championship,” said the second oldest of Mike and Toni Backman’s four children (sister, Jaclyn, played field hockey at Merrimack, brother, Brett, plays hockey for Mid Fairfield).
He has a point in eight of nine games this season and his consistency may be his greatest value to the Elis. In fact, Backman only has two hat tricks but has 102 career points in 103 games.
“Sean was a building block for a new coaching staff as a freshman. He was someone you could build a culture on,” said Wallack. “He loves the game and competition, and he always wants to get better.”
If Backman, who had a high school summer internship with the Washington Capitals and then played in their development camp last summer, continues to improve his skills, he might get a third opportunity with the D.C. team.
Sean Backman '10
by Steve Conn, Yale Sports Publicity Director