Ralph Backstrom stuns people when he reveals that he’s been involved in hockey for 53 years. “I was pretty active,” he says. That might be a classic understatement.
The former University of Denver hockey coach and prior president/owner of the Colorado Eagles of the Central Hockey League resides in Windsor and still is active in an ownership position with the Eagles that he founded.
Backstrom played on six Stanley Cup winning teams, all with the Montreal Canadiens. He was a college and professional coach for 15 years. During the 38 years he was either a player or coach, he was part of only six losing seasons.
The Kirkland Lake, Ontario native not only captained the Ottawa-Hull Junior Canadiens team that won the 1958 Memorial Cup but also earned media plaudits as Canada’s best junior player. The next season he played for Montreal in the NHL, won the Calder Trophy as Rookieof-the-Year and had his name engraved on the Stanley Cup for the first time.
A six-time NHL All-Star, Backstrom played 15 seasons in the NHL and four in the WHA for a combined total of 1,336 career games, 378 goals and 892 points. He also played briefly with the Denver Spurs before the franchise folded during the 1975-76 season.
However, he was just getting started.
He served as an assistant coach for the University of Denver and Los Angeles Kings. He was DU’s head coach between 1981-90 and also was head coach of the International Hockey League’s Phoenix Roadrunners for three seasons. He was Commissioner of Roller Hockey International and a scout for the St. Louis Blues before he founded the Colorado Eagles, which has become the Central Hockey League’s most successful franchise.
At DU, Backstrom compiled a 182-174-14 record. During the 1985-86 season, he guided the Pioneers to a school-record 34 wins, the WCHA’s regular-season and playoff championships and the NCAA’s Frozen Four. He was named both WCHA Coach of the Year and NCAA Coach of the Year, winning the Spencer Penrose Award for the latter.
I think someday you’re going to see some players coming out of Northern Colorado and playing in the National Hockey League.