Ralph Backstrom, a six-time Stanley Cup winner, former DU hockey coach and founder of the Colorado Eagles minor league hockey team, died Sunday at his home in Windsor, according to the NHL. He was 83.
The Kirkland Lake, Ontario, native had been battling a “lengthy illness” prior to his death, .
“Ralph Backstrom was the most honorable gentleman I’ve ever encountered in my professional life and he was single-handedly responsible for professional hockey in Northern Colorado,” Eagles owner and CEO Martin Lind said in a statement. “We all are forever indebted to this legacy of a gentleman and we pray his family has peace and comfort in this difficult time.”
Backstrom spent 53 years working in and around the game of hockey, first as a player, then as an NHL and college coach and scout, and later as an executive.
The forward won all six of his Stanley Cup titles with the Montreal Canadiens, capturing back-to-back crowns three separate times. He scored 278 goals and 639 points in 1,032 career NHL games with the Canadiens, Los Angeles Kings and Chicago Blackhawks between 1956 and ’73. He was a six-time all-star and the 1959 Calder Trophy winner as NHL rookie of the year.
Backstrom spent another four seasons in the World Hockey Association, playing 304 games for four teams between 1973-77. That included a stint with the Denver Spurs in 1975. He joined the University of Denver coaching staff soon after, and spent four years as an assistant under Marshall Johnston.
After a year as an assistant coach with the L.A. Kings, he returned to DU to take over the Pioneers hockey program from 1981 to 1990. He led the Pios to 34 wins and a trip to the Frozen Four during the 1985-86 season and was named the national coach of the year.
Backstrom later coached the Phoenix Roadrunners of the IHL, served as commissioner of Roller Hockey International and worked as a scout for the St. Louis Blues.
“I’ve seen the game from all sides,” Backstrom told The Denver Post in 2006. “You’ve got to know the game to understand what it takes to be successful not only on the ice but off the ice as well. As a player you go as far as your legs take you, but in coaching and administration, you look at the other end of your body for how much desire is left.”
Backstrom founded the Colorado Eagles in 2002 as part of the Central Hockey League and served as president and general manger of the franchise until 2007.
In their second season, the Eagles won the President’s Cup as league champions in 2005 and followed that up with another title in 2007 — the same year that Backstrom called it a career.
“Lots of wonderful times; lots of painful times, too,” Backstrom told The Post in 2007. “The six Cups are big, and I was very fortunate to win the Memorial Cup (with the Ottawa-Hull Junior Canadiens in 1958). I’d compare that to winning the Stanley Cup, and then we won a couple championships here in northern Colorado.”
He is survived by his wife Janet, daughter, Diana, and sons Andrew and Martin, the Eagles said.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
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