Decked out in his freshly minted No. 42 Bruins sweater, David Backes was in full meet-and-greet mode Wednesday, patting heads, scratching bellies, and shaking paws with the many dogs up for adoption as he made the rounds at Angell Animal Medical Center in Boston.
A longtime advocate of animal rescue endeavors, dating to his college days in Minnesota, Backes and wife Kelly are committed to maintaining their charitable efforts once they become full-time Bostonians. Their stop at Angell came amid a week in which they’ve been scouring the suburbs, trying to find just the right new home for their one-year-old daughter Stella, and their four dogs and two cats.
“The wife, then the baby, and the dogs, the cats,’’ mused Backes, considering who will get the final say selecting the family’s new address, “and then I am at the end of that list.’’
Meanwhile, it remains to be seen where Backes, 32, fits into a Bruins lineup plagued by a paucity of scoring down the stretch last season, failing to make the playoffs for a second straight season. A career center, Backes could be popped over to the wing, possibly to fill out a trio with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand. If so, the adoption advocate sounds eminently adaptable.
“It’s not going to be something that’s set in stone,’’ said Backes, who signed with the Bruins as a free agent on July 1, a deal that will bring him $30 million over the next five seasons. “I think it will be an adjustment. Whatever [coach] Claude [Julien] thinks is necessary . . . when you’re playing with good players, I think the old NHL maybe you were stuck in your lane and you just went up and down the wall, but [these days] it’s pretty dynamic and fluid.’’
In short, everyone connected with Black and Gold Hockey, Inc., will see how things unfold once everyone arrives in camp prior to the Oct. 13 season opener in Columbus. It’s a lineup that needs his experience, leadership, and guile.
Backes brings size (6 feet 3 inches, 220 pounds) to the forward corps. He is bigger than the club’s top two centers, David Krejci and Bergeron, which could entice Julien to use him more frequently at pivot against beefier lineups. Opponents lacking in size or grit in the middle could lead Julien to shift Backes to a wing, or possibly flip him to a third-line center role with the hope of spreading out the scoring attack. Options are many, particularly in a lineup that often failed to convert prime scoring opportunities.
“You can tell there’s some passion, just tons of people here that just yearn for another Cup, even though it was five years ago there was a parade here,’’ said Backes, who never lifted the Cup with the Blues. “That’s why I came here. You see the vision, you see the love for the team, and I want to be part of that.’’
He said he also wants to be connected to the community, in large part why he made the pilgrimage to Angell late in the morning, followed by a stop at Fenway Park, where he threw out the first pitch for the Red Sox-Tigers matinee. Backes was a young boy in Minnesota when he got his first dog, a poodle named Jazz, and wanted to have a dog again when he played at Minnesota State University, Mankato. Upon realizing that wasn’t practical, he began volunteering at local animal shelters.
“Walking dogs, cleaning out kennels,” recalled Backes, noting he likes to get his hands dirty, “and scooping out litter boxes.’’
Through the years, said Backes, he has witnessed time and again how the adoption process is both good for the animal and the owner.
“We love doing it every day,’’ said Backes. “It’s really not work and we get tons of reward. You see some animals go home, and the change, and they know they’ve been rescued. They have another lease on life. It’s a powerful relationship between the animal and the new family as well.’’
The formal interview with the media complete, Backes spotted one reporter in the crowd who brought his family dog to the news conference — perhaps not customary, but permitted in the dog days of summer.
“What’s this?’’ said Backes, reaching down to give the honorary media member a scratch behind the ears, “bring your dog to work day?’’
“Not really, said the reporter, pointing to the dog. “If you ask him, he’ll tell you it’s take your reporter to work day.’’