PITTSBURGH — Someday, Filip Lindberg surely wants to be the first goaltender to backstop the Minnesota Wild to a Stanley Cup championship. But for now, he will have to settle for winning a title on the college level.
A junior from Espoo, Finland, Lindberg made college hockey history in the UMass win over St. Cloud State on Saturday night, becoming the first European goalie to get a win in the Frozen Four title game. And all of it came at the end of a week that began with him looking like yet another person to have their life disrupted by the pandemic.
Lindberg, who was picked by the Wild in the seventh round of the 2019 NHL Draft, was one of four Minutemen ruled ineligible for the UMass semifinal game versus Minnesota Duluth due to contact tracing for COVID-19. That meant that Matt Murray, a capable backup who hadn’t played a game in two months, got to face the Bulldogs, while Lindberg stayed back in Amherst, Mass., and could only watch from a hotel room.
Murray did his job, holding off the Bulldogs long enough for a 3-2 overtime win. In the immediate aftermath of that victory, Minutemen coach Greg Carvel announced that Lindberg and the three others were cleared to play and were on their way to Pittsburgh. It was good news, but created a dilemma of sorts for the coach.
Do you start the guy who got you there all season (Lindberg) or the guy that got you to the title game (Murray).
During the eight-hour car ride to western Pennsylvania, Lindberg slept for most of the time, but his slumber was interrupted by a FaceTime call from his goalie coach asking if the Finn would be ready to go on Saturday if he got the title game nod.
“I said I feel good, I napped six hours,” Lindberg said. “I was ready to play, no matter what.”
With Lindberg back where he belonged, not only in the locker room but in the Minuteman crease, he set to work on an adventurous night. The Huskies’ Veeti Miettinen, who is also from Espoo, Finland, clanked the crossbar on a 2-on-1 rush in the opening minutes of the game.
“We played on the same team when we were 18 years old. He’s a heck of a player. He’s a pretty good goalie and congrats,” Miettinen said, praising Lindberg but finding it hard to talk about the near miss. “I don’t want to think about that. It was just one chance, crossbar, and that’s it. It didn’t go in, so it doesn’t matter.”
Other than that it was a quiet first period. Lindberg faced just three shots as his team built a 2-0 lead. He faced a dozen in the second period, but let his shooters do the heavy lifting and emerged up 4-0 at the 40-minute mark. The final was 5-0, giving Lindberg his 11th career shutout with 25 saves, and marking the most lopsided NCAA title game in more than a decade, since Boston College blanked Wisconsin 5-0 in the 2010 championship in Detroit.
It was exactly the opposite of two years ago in this game, when Lindberg got the NCAA title match start versus Minnesota Duluth as a freshman and played well, with 28 saves, but got no goal support. He watched from 190 feet away as the Bulldogs’ Hunter Shepard thwarted the 18 shots sent his way as another title banner went to hang in Duluth. At the end of his sophomore season, Lindberg was still fighting for ice time.
"Filip came to me at the end of last year and told me he needed to play more. I got really angry and I said, 'Be better. You need to be a lot better if you want to play every game,'" Minutemen coach Greg Carvel said. "And he did. He did it because he got mentally tougher. He had all the tools, but he needed to get mentally tougher, and this week is a great example of it."
With the Wild seemingly set in goal for the time being, with the goalie tandem of Cam Talbot and another Finn, Kaapo Kahkonen, in the rotation, it may be a while before Lindberg gets a chance to wear the red and green at Xcel Energy Center. He joked that by then, he hopes any anger Minnesota fans have after he dashed the Huskies’ hopes on Saturday will have subsided.
“We’ll see what happens. They’re all good guys,” Lindberg said. “They’re not going to punch me in the face for this...It’s going to be fine, I think.”