An off-the-ice accident may have prematurely ended his Yale career, but Sean Backman ’10 will still get a chance to play at the next level.
The Bulldog right winger signed a one-year free agent contract with the National Hockey League’s Dallas Stars, and he will compete for a spot on the Stars or one of its affiliates at the team’s training camp this upcoming fall.
Backman finished fourth in career goals scored in Yale history, earned All-ECAC honors all four years and was the Ivy League Player of the Year this season.
The Cos Cob, Conn., native will look to follow in the footsteps of his father, who played in the NHL for the New York Rangers and in the American Hockey League — the highest level of play below the NHL.
“I’m thrilled,” Backman said. “[Playing in the NHL] has been a dream and goal of mine since I started playing hockey and to finally have it achieved is pretty exciting for me.”
Head coach Keith Allain ’80 added: “He’s been someone that teams have been looking at for a few years now. [The NHL’s interest] makes perfect sense to me.”
Although the NHL had always been a goal of his, Backman tried being realistic when he joined the Yale men’s hockey team four years ago.
“To be honest, I didn’t really have any pro intentions coming into college,” Backman said.
His impact, though, was immediate.
Leading the Bulldogs with 18 goals his freshman year — eight more than anyone else on the team — the right winger was named Co-ECAC Rookie of the Year and suddenly was on scouts’ radars.
Backman’s point totals increased each year, as did his team’s offensive production and overall success.
Last summer Backman, along with four of his teammates, played in NHL development camps. Backman played at the Washington Capitals’ camp with left winger Denny Kearney ’11 and said the week-long workout gave him confidence.
“I think I played well there and I think I’m ready to take that next jump,” Backman said.
This season Backman picked up where he left off, netting a career-high 21 goals, including nine on the power play.
The continued success attracted the Stars. Midway through the season the Stars contacted Backman’s agent to express their interest.
Although his Yale career was cut short because of a heel injury suffered in an after-hours pool incident — an injury, according to a report originally published by College Hockey News, that led to surgery earlier this month — Backman was able to make the trip this weekend to Worcester, Mass., to watch his teammates win their first NCAA Tournament game in 58 years.
“It was a nice change of pace to be back with my team,” Backman said. “I was pretty much bed-ridden for a month, away from my team, and that was tough for me. It was really special to get back with the guys and be able to watch how well they did this weekend. I was really proud of the way they played.”
Backman would not comment on the specifics of his injury, but he said that he expected to be back on the ice in June, which would give him “plenty of time to be ready” before NHL training camps start in September.
His recovery will not be the only question Backman fields: He’ll also surely be asked about his size.
At five-foot-eight, Backman is just one inch taller than the shortest player currently in the NHL — Montreal Canadiens forward Brian Gionta.
“Anytime you see a guy that’s under five-foot-10 coaches and general managers are going to second-guess them,” Backman said. “Luckily I’ve found an organization that has seemed to overlook my size a little bit, and they’re going to give me a chance.”
Backman said he hopes that the Elis’ recent postseason success will open up doors for his teammates, many of whom, like Backman, are known for their quickness and small size.
“Sometimes the ECAC and Ivy League schools don’t get the attention that they deserve,” Backman said. “I think with the performance we had this year, we’re going to open some eyes to some NHL scouts.”
Last season’s team success paid off when goaltender Alec Richards ’09 was signed with the Chicago Blackhawks. Richards is currently playing for the ECHL’s Toledo Walleye. An Ivy League connection may have also opened the door for Backman — Stars general manager Joe Nieuwendyk played at Cornell.
“Hopefully there’ll be a domino effect,” Kearney said. “There’s a lot of talent on this team.”