Lindblad Relieved to be back PlayingDec 17, 2015
Wolf Pack forward Matt Lindblad was changing organizations for the first time in his pro career this season, having signed with the New York Rangers after playing his first two years under the Boston Bruins’ banner, and the last thing he needed was to have to sit out the entire first quarter of the season.
That’s what happened to the Dartmouth College product, though, after he suffered a freak injury during his off-season workouts. He had to stay off skates until well after the Wolf Pack season began, get himself back into playing shape after being cleared to practice, and then finally got to play his first games in a Pack uniform just this past weekend.
“It was definitely extremely tough,” Lindblad said before his third game of the season, which was in his old home rink, the Dunkin’ Donuts Center Providence, this past Sunday. “You want to go into camp in the best shape possible and out to prove something to, especially, new management or new coaching staff, and all of a sudden you have a setback like this. It was extremely frustrating, extremely tough, but fortunately I’m back on the ice now.”
It certainly is ironic that when Lindblad finally worked his way back off the injured list, it was for a weekend that saw the Wolf Pack make their first two visits of the season to Providence, where he played most of his first two pro campaigns, against a P-Bruin club that still features many of Lindblad’s former teammates.
“It’s kind of funny,” Lindblad chuckled. “Guys were kind of joking with me all week, even in warmups, throwing pucks in my feet, just messing around with me, but whether it was Providence or any other team, I was just extremely excited, and eager to get back on the ice.”
Lindblad had exerted an inordinate amount of effort and sweat to get back to playing, but there is no substitute for game shape. And, sure enough, when he finally returns, it’s for a three-game weekend for which the Wolf Pack are short of extra bodies, so the team needs him to play all three games. Lindblad reported no issues, though, and was grateful for the opportunity to jump in with both feet.
“I felt pretty good,” he said. “I feel like the first night I was a little heavy, but (the second) night more so I had my legs, and I know they were trying to keep an eye on the minutes I’m playing and not to try to overdo it, but I never want to take a shift off. I want to be out there as much as I can, and whether it’s a three-in-three or a four-in-four, whatever, I want to be out there as much as I can.”
Lindblad, a 25-year-old native of Evanston, IL, in the Chicago area, was nearly a point-per-game player in three seasons at Dartmouth, and earned four NHL games during his two seasons in the Bruin organization, which saw him contribute 18 goals and 51 points in 106 total games in a Providence uniform.
“I’d like to think of myself as a two-way forward who contributes on both sides of the ice,” Lindblad said. “With that being said, I wouldn’t say that’s necessarily my entire mentality. Just like any guy, they want to score, they want to contribute offensively as much as they can, too. So I’d like to think of myself as a two-way forward with the mindset of maybe a little bit more offensive this year.”
After having passed up his Senior season with the Big Green to sign with the Bruins in April of 2013, Lindblad had a quick courtship with the Ranger organization this summer, inking his Ranger free-agent contract on the first day of NHL free agency, July 1. It was hardly a rushed decision, though, on the part of Lindblad, for whom careful consideration determined that the Ranger offer was the most attractive of those he received.
“It just felt like a good opportunity in New York,” he said. “They lost a couple of guys and I figured I could help out as much as possible. I talked to my agent and my family, and ultimately it just seemed like the best fit for me.”
That fit was tested by Lindblad’s bad injury luck, which kept him somewhat on the outside looking in as the Rangers and Wolf Pack prepared for their new seasons, and as he went about weaving himself into a new group of teammates. Right from the start he felt welcomed, however, as the Wolf Pack group went out of its way to help make Lindblad’s transition a smooth one.
“It’s challenging, but at the same time, they’ve done a really good job of helping me adapt,” he said. “With Providence last year, I had a pretty good idea of the role they wanted me to play and the situations I was going to be in, where here, coming to a new organization with a new staff, you never really know where you fit in, especially being hurt and joining the team in mid-December. But I feel like the coaching staff and the guys have been very vocal and helpful.”
Lindblad has benefitted, too, from the fact that hockey is such a small world. He had several pre-existing connections within the Wolf Pack locker room, relationships that ensured a friendly welcome.
“I grew up with Jayson Megna,” Lindblad said, “we played seven or eight years together, and my best friend from home is (former Wolf Pack defenseman) Conor Allen, and he spent two years in this organization. One of his roommates last year was Tommy Hughes, and we clicked right away. So it’s been a very easy transition.”
Megna, Allen and Lindblad all grew up, and played their teenage hockey, in the Chicago area, which hasn’t always been known as a fertile source of pro puck talent. The game continues to widen its scope with each passing year, though, and the Second City is among many locales that is sending more and more youngsters on to higher levels.
“The pool of players has really grown into the Chicago area,” Lindblad said. “Obviously Minnesota has been a big leader in the Midwest, but I feel like Chicago as of late has made a good push. And we’re secretly hoping that U. of I. (University of Illinois) or Northwestern will start up a Division I program and join the Big 10. We have a big pool, and it’s great to see some of these guys come out and do so well.”
Lindblad is one of the role models that other young Chicago players can follow, as his path from Ivy League to AHL to NHL is one that most hopefuls would be eager to pursue. The decision to leave Dartmouth a year early, though, and get a head start on his pro career, was hardly an easy one for Lindblad.
“It was extremely tough,” he said. “My dad was a Dartmouth grad, and he obviously made sure that if I was going to leave, that I would finish up my degree. And it was tough leaving all your good and close friends, whether it was hockey players, or with a school like Dartmouth, you have friends throughout the sporting pool. It was definitely a really tough decision, forgoing your Senior season, and definitely here or there you’ll think about it, but I’m definitely happy with where I am right now.”