Archive for December, 2015

Lindblad Relieved to be back Playing

December 17, 2015

Here’s a feature I posted to the Wolf Pack’s official website on Pack forward Matt Lindblad:

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.Lindblad Action Shot

“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.”

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Consistency Earns Bodie Pack Leadership Position

December 17, 2015

Following is a feature I wrote for the Wolf Pack’s official website on Pack blueliner Mat Bodie:

Wolf Pack defenseman Mat Bodie has always been a leader throughout his hockey career, including two seasons as the captain of a Union College squad that developed into an NCAA championship team.

Still, it’s unusual that a player who is only in his second year of pro hockey would be tabbed to wear one of the assistant captains’ “A”s on his jersey, and that is the designation the Wolf Pack coaches have bestowed upon Bodie.  He is among a group of four players, joined by Chris Summers, Marek Hrivik and Jayson Megna, who have rotated wearing the A’s this season, and Bodie is grateful for the nod.

“It’s an honor to be recognized by the coaching staff,” he said recently.  “We’ve got a pretty good leadership group here and there’s a few more guys who could be wearing letters.  So you don’t go about changing your game, just go out and play hard.”

That steadiness factor extends to Bodie’s interaction with his fellow Wolf Pack players.  Being only a second-year pro and a titled leader of more experienced teammates might seem to be somewhat of an uncomfortable position, but for Bodie, it’s just a matter of being the same guy he always has been.

“I don’t think you change much,” he said.  “We’ve got a good group of guys, so it’s not like you have to keep guys in check.  It’s just a matter of carrying yourself the right way and hoping guys will follow.Bodie Action Shot

“Regardless of where you are, you shouldn’t be changing the way you play, or the way you act, just because you have a letter, or not, on your jersey.  And I don’t think any of the guys here that are wearing letters have changed at all.”

A 25-year-old native of East St. Paul, Manitoba, Bodie is an intelligent, articulate individual, as one might expect of a guy with a degree from a school like Union.  He is not a loud, aggressive personality, and it’s hard to picture him giving many rah-rah speeches in the locker room, but that hardly hampers him from being a factor in the team’s leadership group.

“There’s times for that (raising one’s voice), but if you’re doing it all the time, guys are going to start to tune you out,” Bodie said.  “So you’ve just got to pick your spots, and if something needs to be said, you step up and say it, but other than that you just go about your business.”

That businesslike approach allowed Bodie to make a smooth transition from the ECAC to the AHL last season, as he tied for the Wolf Pack team plus/minus lead, with a +11, and chalked up five goals and 32 points in 75 games.  That was after a Senior season at Union that saw him lead all NCAA blueliners in points, with 8-31-39 in 40 games.  The offensive numbers have not flowed as freely for Bodie so far this year, but that is not a big concern to him.

“You need to take care of your own end first, play a 200-foot game,” Bodie said.  “A lot of times when you’re playing smart defensively, the offensive side just kind of falls into place.  And it’s not something that I’m too worried about, offensively, but just making sure you’re keeping pucks out of your own end, because that’s your job first.”

The task of defending down low in the zone is not made any easier by Bodie’s relatively small and slight stature, which sees him check in at six feet and 170 pounds.  That means that his effort level and smarts become his most important assets.

“You’ve got to kind of pick your battles,” Bodie said, “and just make sure you have good body position, not trying to necessarily out-muscle guys, but just keeping them to the outside, getting good stick on puck as well, and win the battles any way you can.”

Bodie’s game also has a distinct edge to it, as many opposing forwards who have wrestled him for position in the hard areas of the Wolf Pack zone can attest.

“A guy challenges you and you’ve got to step up to the plate, whether that be fighting or just kind of stepping up for teammates, or whatever it may be,” Bodie said.  “But you definitely don’t let anyone push you around, and just play hard.”

The second-year pro Bodie has actually been the veteran on his defensive pairing for most of the season, as he has most often skated with one of two rookies, either Brady Skjei or Ryan Graves.  Bodie has played his off-hand side, the right side, in both of those tandems, but has felt comfortable alongside both first-year pros.

“I think it’s gone pretty good,” he said.  “We feed off each other pretty well, and the communication is starting to really help us, I think.  But as far as being a leader on the back end, just go out and do your job, and some of the younger guys are going to look up to that and just follow suit.”

Playing with the former first-round pick Skjei, in particular, was quite a bit different than Bodie’s experience last year, when he spent much of the season paired with another ex-first rounder, Dylan McIlrath, whose calling cards are rugged physical play and intimidation.

“More puck-possession (with Skjei), there seem to be a little more D-to-D passes, and trying to play in the offensive zone as much as possible,” Bodie said.  “But any time we are in the D-zone, he does a good job hitting stick, and hopefully get that puck out of our end as soon as possible.

“He’s a great-skating defenseman, that’s the thing you’re going to notice first if you come watch him.  Big guy, uses his body well, and I think the offensive side for him is starting to come as well.”

In addition to his regular duties, one of Bodie’s major roles is helping to quarterback the Wolf Pack power play.  That has been the source of some frustration, as the man-advantage unit has struggled for much of the season, and Bodie feels that the key to improving its success is not all that complex.

“First and foremost, just outworking the opponent,” is how he put it.  “Especially on special teams, that’s going to be the first cause for success.  Secondly, we need to start sending more pucks towards the net and more traffic in front of the net.

“Don’t try and complicate things when it’s not going your way, just simplify as much as you can, and outwork the other team.”

Words to live by, to be sure, in all aspects of the game, and those of a leader.