Learning a Second Language, Skating on the First Line?
Thursday, July 12, 2007
Nicklas Backstrom wishes he didn't need a few extra seconds to think before he talks. It's what he misses most about being at home: being able to speak without having to worry if people will understand him, or if he'll use the correct English word. In Swedish, he knows exactly what he wants to say.
"It's annoying," said Backstrom, the Washington Capitals' first-round (fourth overall) draft pick in 2006. "When you have your own language you don't have to think about things to say. I have to think about some words that I don't understand, but I will learn it better."
He occasionally may need to ask about certain words on a menu, but some things remain unchanged in the shadow of a language barrier, such as how fast Backstrom ran for cover when he got caught near the Washington Monument in a downpour on Tuesday afternoon.
Seeking refuge under a concessions tent across the street, a drenched Backstrom didn't need any ornate prose.
"This [stinks]," he said, wiping the water from his face. And no, they don't have storms that creep up on unsuspecting pedestrians like that in Sweden.
Luckily for the Capitals, another thing that's unhampered by how well the 19-year-old center speaks English is how well he speaks the language of hockey, something that's the same regardless if he's in Sweden or in Arlington at Kettler Capitals Iceplex.
On Tuesday, the 19-year-old Backstrom stood back from the group of early arrivals at the Capitals' conditioning camp and inadvertently nodded his head as Coach Glen Hanlon diagrammed the different one-on-one and breakaway drills he wanted the players to skate through.
He may not have said much to the other players on the ice, but he knew what he needed to do.
"That's hockey world," said Backstrom, a native of Gavle, Sweden, whom the Capitals think will skate on the first or second line next year alongside one of their young Russian left wings, Alex Ovechkin or Alexander Semin.
Hanlon said that Backstrom's comprehension of team meetings conducted in English is better than Ovechkin's was in his rookie season.
"He understands. He's way more advanced. In Sweden, there's a lot more English spoken, a lot more English TV channels and they all seem to watch MTV.
"With him, it's more getting used to our training, getting used to some of our systems," he continued. "We'll spend more time showing him our system play than we would some of the others."