SOCHI, Russia – The line of David Backes, Dustin Brown and Ryan Callahan specialize in giving opposing teams headaches in their own zone. It’s their moniker that gives their coach one.
“They got their own nickname, but, um …” said Team USA coach Dan Bylsma.
Can you tell us the nickname? “I won’t,” he said, with a twinge of embarrassment.
Too late. Backes already revealed after Team USA’s win over the Czechs that his line is called … The Meat Line.
“I’m the beef. Dustin Brown’s the pork. Callahan’s the chicken. So that’s our meat line,” said Backes.
Where did this carnivorous label originate?
“Truth be told, Derek Stepan had a lot of input on that. He’s been a guy who only got into one game, but he’s added a lot of character in the room,” said Backes of Stepan, the New York Rangers center.
Stepan decided the trio, easily the Americans’ most physical group, would be known as the Meat Line, and began assigning each player a protein.
“He initially wanted to make sure that Callahan was the chicken out of the group,” said Backes. “Then we had to figure out who was beef and pork.”
At 6-3 and 191 pounds, Backes is the beef. “Me being the larger member between Brown and I, it was decided I would be the beef. We’ll see what [Brown] thinks about being the pig,” he said.
(If only they could travel back in time to the days of the Rangers’ Goal A Game Line. The Meat Line against the GAG Line? Dr. Heimlich’s dream.)
Rare, well-done nickname aside, the three players were difference makers in the 5-2 win against the Czechs. Brown and Backes had goals, and the Meat Line butchered the Czechs in their own zone on the forecheck.
“All three of us work well down low. For us we want to get the puck behind the defensemen and try and then try to work them. I thought we accomplished that,” said Callahan. “And doing that, other plays will open up. We made some nice plays there. It’s important for our line to find the back of the net too.”
Bylsma said the line exemplifies the Team USA philosophies of hard work and frustrating the opposition.
“They all have the same mentality. You watch the game [against the Czechs] and Ryan Callahan absolutely works, tenacious and finds himself in the net and in the corner taking a guy down, physical. David Backes at the net? Hard to play against. Dustin Brown’s not far off that with the way they play,” said Bylsma.
“That’s a tough line to play against.”
If Bylsma has his way, Sidney Crosby’s line will discover that firsthand.
Team USA’s showdown with Canada in the tournament semifinals is Friday night. The expectation is that the Backes, Brown and Callahan will be sent out as often as possible against Crosby’s unit.
“I may have frustrated a few guys in my day, but every time we play them, if I’m not on my game and our whole team isn’t playing well, he can have a career night,” said Backes, a center for the St. Louis Blues. “That’s the kind of player he is. We need to make sure he’s not having tons of free ice and having his way out there. We need to make sure he’s earning it all and when we do that it seems to maybe slow the pace down a little bit to try to control him, but stopping him is a real tough task.”
If the Americans are to avenge their 2010 Olympic gold medal loss to the Canadians, it might come down to whether Crosby can stomach a heaping helping of Meat.
“That’s no secret to anyone," said Backes.
“We’re physical guys. We like to grind and bump. We’ve had to do that against a ton of skill in this tournament and we’ll have to do that against Canada.”
Hopefully they brought their BBQ sauce. Maple flavored, of course.