Colorado Rubber

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Eagles team founder, former Denver coach Backstrom passes away at 83


Colorado Eagles team founder Ralph Backstrom passed away Feb. 7, 2021 at the age of 83.

Backstrom founded the Eagles in 2002 and served as team president from 2003-07. He played on six Stanley Cup-winning teams with the Montreal Canadiens and was a fifteen-year coach at the NCAA and professional level.

Backstrom was elected to the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame in 2008 and was awarded the ECHL’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2013 in recognition of a career spent growing the great sport of hockey.

“Ralph Backstrom was the most honorable gentleman I’ve ever encountered in my professional life and he was singlehandedly responsible for professional hockey in Northern Colorado,” said Eagles owner and CEO Martin Lind. “We all are forever indebted to this legacy of a gentleman and we pray his family has peace and comfort in this difficult time.”

A native of Kirkland Lake, Ont., Backstrom was the captain of the 1958 Memorial Cup champion Ottawa-Hull Junior Canadiens and was voted by the media as the best junior player in the country.  The following year, he signed with the Canadiens, won the Calder Trophy as Rookie of the Year, and helped capture his first Stanley Cup championship.  His name was inscribed on the Stanley Cup five more times before being traded to Los Angeles in 1971. 

There are only nine players in Stanley Cup competition — dating back to 1893 — who have won more than six Stanley Cups.

“It was an eye-opener, stepping onto the ice with those guys (in Montreal),” Backstrom told last October. “I think any young player felt intimidated, going into that dressing room and playing with the Canadiens, and against the great players on other teams. It was a wonderful experience that I’ll remember the rest of my life.”

Backstrom was traded to Chicago after two seasons in Los Angeles and led the Blackhawks to the Stanley Cup Final.  He then signed with the World Hockey Association, playing for Chicago, Denver, and the New England Whalers.  One of his greatest moments came in 1974 when he was voted MVP for Team Canada in the Canada Cup Series vs. the Soviet National Team.  Among the illustrious names on that team were Gordie Howe, Bobby Hull and Frank Mahovlich

In the NHL and WHA combined, Backstrom totaled 378 goals and 514 assists for 892 points in 1,336 games.

After playing 15 years in the NHL and four years in the WHA, Backstrom entered the coaching field in 1977 as assistant coach at the University of Denver.  Following a brief tenure as L.A. Kings assistant coach, Backstrom returned to Denver as head coach.  He assembled a winning record in nine seasons with the Pioneers and led the school to the WCHA title and NCAA Hockey Final Four in 1986.  Backstrom was named NCAA Division I National Coach of the Year for his efforts, winning the Spencer Penrose Award.

After two years coaching the Phoenix Roadrunners of the International Hockey League, Backstrom co-founded Roller Hockey International (RHI) in 1992.  He was responsible for creating the playing rules for professional roller hockey, which are now recognized and used throughout the world. 

In the summer of 2007, Backstrom retired after 53 years in the game of hockey.

“I’ve seen the game from all sides,” Backstrom told the Denver Post in 2006. “You’ve got to know the game to understand what it takes to be successful not only on the ice but off the ice as well. As a player, you go as far as your legs take you, but in coaching and administration, you look at the other end of your body for how much desire is left.”

Backstrom is survived by his wife Janet, daughter Diana and sons Andrew and Martin.

(Feb. 11, 2021)

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