Three weeks ago, the eldest of Mr. Lindgren’s three boys was between the pipes for the St. Cloud State Huskies in the NCAA Tournament. Then, just days after the Huskies' elimination, the 22-year-old Minnesota native was a pro, sporting the colors of the winningest franchise in NHL history and working out with the likes of Carey Price, Mike Condon and goaltending guru Stephane Waite at his side.
In short, it really is the stuff that dreams are made of, and Mr. Lindgren and his family couldn’t be prouder.
|The Lindgrens celebrated Charlie's first NHL victory in Raleigh on April 7. |
“Charlie’s really impressed us with the way he’s handled everything. His mom, Jennifer, and I, were just so happy with what’s transpired over the last little while. It’s hard to believe, actually. I can’t even begin to say how exciting this is. He’s my kid, but he’s a really good kid. He’s a team-first guy. His teammates over the years have really loved him, and I know why. That’s just the kind of person he is, and seeing him move on to this level is very emotional for us,” said Mr. Lindgren, who tended goal for the USHL’s St. Paul Vulcans in 1984-85 and the University of Michigan during the 1985-86 campaign.
Lindgren elected to forego his senior season with Bob Motzko’s squad, signing a two-year, two-way contract with the Canadiens on March 30 that kicked in right away. That meant that the NCHC’s Goaltender of the Year would begin his tenure with Michel Therrien’s troops immediately after leading the NCAA with 30 victories, and posting a 2.13 goals-against average and a .925 save percentage this past season. Lindgren accompanied the Canadiens on their second-to-last road trip of the year to the Sunshine State and continued practicing with the team and backing up Condon in preparation for his NHL debut on April 7 in Carolina.
If the Habs’ newest goaltender had to adapt to a fresh reality on the fly over the last week-and-a-half of the season, Mr. Lindgren was doing exactly the same thing back home in the Midwest.
“Watching the games and seeing Charlie on the bench – quite honestly – I’ve been saying to myself – ‘Is this real?’ I can’t imagine what’s going through his mind, but for us as parents it’s kind of crazy when you think about it, seeing those clips and interviews of him at practice in a Canadiens jersey. It’s just the beginning of a long haul, though. I know that there’s plenty of stuff ahead, plenty of demands. He’s going to work hard, and then we’ll see what happens,” said Mr. Lindgren, who credits Charlie’s diligence for making this remarkable step up possible.
“He’s a real student of the game, a thinker. I still remember him watching a lot of videos of NHL stuff back in the day, just wanting to get better and learning as much as possible about the position. He would do that all on his own, going out and buying books about goaltending and then thumbing through them and reading. He’s always loved to play and pick up things about the game,” added Mr. Lindgren, the owner of Minnehaha Falls Nursery and Landscape in south Minneapolis, a family-owned business since 1957. “We had season tickets to the Minnesota Wild the first few years and I’d take Charlie along with me to most of the games because my other two boys were a little young. That was big for him, watching a guy like Manny Fernandez play and meeting him. That’s going way back. We went to plenty of games together, and that played a role, for sure.”
Mr. Lindgren fondly recalls working with the Canadiens’ No. 35 on hockey basics as a child. While Charlie started out as a forward in his hometown of Lakeville, it didn’t take long for the goaltending bug to take over for good.
|Charlie enjoyed a 10-day stay with the Canadiens after signing his contract with his family by his side in Minnesota. |
“He went into goaltending full-time the last year of Mites or the first year of Squirts. I was a big believer in him learning to skate pretty well before focusing on one thing, one position. I think goalies have to be good skaters to succeed. One of my old coaches worked part-time at the Bloomington Ice Gardens, so we would go there late at night and skate and have some fun together. Sometimes, I’d bring the whole family out. We had the whole rink to ourselves,” said Mr. Lindgren, who signed Charlie up to work with local goaltending expert – and former NHLer and Hobey Baker Award winner – Robb Stauber to improve on the technical side of things as well. “I just taught him the fundamentals around the crease and some mental lessons, but he’d spend hours and hours over at Robb’s Goalcrease facility over the years developing his skills and honing his game.”
By the time Charlie was playing Pee-Wee hockey, his father knew he had a youngster with serious potential living under his roof. All the signs were there. According to Mr. Lindgren, it was all in his appearance on the ice. Charlie and goaltending just made perfect sense together.
“I thought he just looked so comfortable out there in goal. It’s hard to explain. You kind of sit in the stands and look at how a goalie moves and it seemed to fit. He looked like a goalie. He’s pretty athletic. He’s always been that way. In his early teens, you could see it all clicked. Sure, there were bumps along the way, absolutely. His first competitive game ever, I remember he gave up something like 13 goals and my wife and I thought – ‘That’s the end of it. He’s not going to want to do this anymore.’ But, that wasn’t the case. He stuck with it. He’s just kept on grinding away, pushing to get better and competing everywhere he’s gone. That’s one of his biggest attributes,” said Mr. Lindgren, a supporter of the Canadiens and the likes of Ken Dryden, Guy Lafleur, Yvan Cournoyer and Larry Robinson growing up, which is why Charlie elected to feature images of Dryden on his mask.
Fortunately, Charlie’s family and friends didn't have to wait too long to see him ply his trade for real in Canadiens colors. Bob and Jennifer both made the trip to Raleigh, along with their other son Andrew, Charlie's girlfriend, his girlfriend's father, and goaltending coach Dave Rogalski. Charlie would go head-to-head with Stanley Cup champion and Conn Smythe Trophy winner, Cam Ward, who he tried to emulate while developing his craft in the North Star State.
“It was a fantasic experience. When Charlie let us know he was starting, we just started scrambling to try to find last-minute flights to get there. You couldn't make something like this up. It turned out so well in the end, even if the script didn't really start off the right way with the first shot of the game going in," said Mr. Lindgren, referencing Hurricanes forward Riley Nash's tally just 94 seconds into the opening frame that put the Canadiens behind early. "As time went on, though, I could tell that Charlie got a lot more comfortable in there. The guys really battled in front of him. They worked their tails off clearing pucks and everybody chipped in for the [4-2] win."
|Charlie made 26 saves to pick up the 4-2 win over the Carolina Hurricanes at PNC Arena. |
Charlie resumed classes at St. Cloud State last Thursday, and he'll be helping his parents out at their shop come May while training in Minneapolis in preparation for his first full season in the Canadiens' system. Whether St. John's or Montreal will be his hockey home in 2016-17 remains to be seen. No matter where he winds up, though, it's safe to say his father will be trying to keep the puck out of the net right along with him.
"I’m the type of guy at games, I have a tendency to make kick saves with my feet sometimes or throw a leg out once or twice to help him make that big save during a game," cracked Mr. Lindgren, who did just that 11 days ago at PNC Arena, doing his best to hold the Hurricanes off the scoresheet. "My wife sat next to me in the first period and then by the end of the game she was three seats away. Those types of games, you get on the edge of your seat a little bit and you're just into it. Seeing him out there was a big deal for him and for us as well."
Matt Cudzinowski is a writer for canadiens.com.
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