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Q&A WITH ELIAS LINDHOLM

Lindholm, winner of the Harley N. Hotchkiss Award as the Flames MVP, looks back on the year that was

by RYAN DITTRICK @ryandittrick / CalgaryFlames.com

In his 31 years on the NASCAR circuit, Hall-of-Fame wheelman Mark Martin had 96 wins and more than 600 Top 10's across the tour's three national branches.

He was reverently known as "Mr. Consistency" around the Cup series garage, piloting his 3,500-lb. machine with the touch of a safe-cracker.

Every week, you knew what to expect. He was always in the mix and carried himself with grace and humility.

Three years after trade that brought him here, Elias Lindholm has had a similar effect on the Flames' inner compound. He's polished, poised and quietly goes about his business, earning the respect of both his teammates and competitors in the process.

But, like Martin and that legendary No. 6 car, the results are anything but subtle - and the centre proves nightly what many have spent the past year shouting from the rooftops:

There no holes in his game.

First-unit powerplay? Check. Top penalty-killing troupe? Check. An even-strength specialist with the defensive acumen to shut down the game's top stars, while at the same time tilting the ice in his own favour and putting up big numbers? Check.

Goaltending?

OK, so he can't do everything. But even then, the third-year Flame was once a pre-teen puck-stopper - so, should a crease crisis ever emerge mid-game, chances are he could strap on the pads and make sense of that role, too.

Point is, the talented, two-way pivot does it all - and at the elite level that only a few can muster in this racket.

It's why Lindholm has been named the inaugural winner of the Harley N. Hotchkiss Award, presented to the player selected as the team's most valuable player.

"It's a huge honour," Lindholm said. "I take a lot of pride in that. I've played with some amazing players that have put me in a position to be very valuable to this team, so I have to say thank you to a lot of people.

"I'm very humbled, very excited, and very grateful to my teammates and the Flames ownership.

"I've come to learn that the true MVP of the Flames was Mr. Hotchkiss. Thank you to the Flames ownership group for the support they provide us to be successful and thank you to the Hotchkiss family."

Lindholm had another exceptional season offensively, tying Johnny Gaudreau for the team lead in goals with 19, and finishing second to No. 13 in points with 47.

But he did so while playing some of the taxing minutes on the team, including 132:10 on the PK, or an average of 2:24 per game. He was routinely deployed against the other teams' top players and was the club's ace faceoff man, squaring off at the dot 669 times in only 56 games.

(He won a team-best 346 of them, by the way.)

All year, there wasn't a piece of any game that didn't have Lindholm's fingerprints all over it.

 

 

DITTRICK: Lindy, congrats on the award! Well deserved. I know things didn't go as planned for the team this year, but how did you feel about your game and the steps you took, personally?

LINDHOLM: Thanks, I thought it was good. The biggest thing for me is that I felt healthy for pretty much the whole year, and that makes a big difference. You're right, it wasn't the year we wanted as a group and that is disappointing, but we did finish the year off on a good note and I think that was good for us to carry that good feeling into next year.

DITTRICK: On that note… I know we've talked a lot about your preference to play centre, but what went so well on your line with Johnny and Chucky down the stretch? Is that something you'd like to experiment with again in the fall?  

LINDHOLM: Playing with Chucky for most of the year, he's obviously a great player with amazing talent. Then, playing with Johnny as we got closer to the end of the season, it was fun. I'm used to playing with both of them, individually, but as a group, I really thought we had a good thing going and it definitely made those last few weeks pretty fun, even though we weren't in the best position to make a run for the playoffs. But we definitely had some good chemistry, put up some points and got some wins. That's a good thing.

DITTRICK: Every player enters into the off-season with a goal in mind. You're only 26 but have really developed your game over the past years. So, what's next? What are you focusing on during the summer to come back even stronger?

LINDHOLM: Personally, I had some good things going. But it wasn't perfect, and there are definitely a few things I can improve on. Overall, playing centre and playing a lot of minutes, (my focus) is to get the cardio even better for next season, so I can perform and be a better player for this team over a longer period of time.

DITTRICK: I was chatting with Johnny earlier this week and he mentioned that Darryl (Sutter) has a 'start date' for your summer training programs. Fair to say your goals align in that regard?

LINDHOLM: 100%. Depending on when the season ends, I usually take a couple weeks off - but I don't like a ton of time off anyway. It's been a few weeks already and I'll take a couple days when I get home, but then it's right back to work. Darryl was pretty clear with us ... He wants us to come back and (see that) everybody has improved, and the summer is a good time to do that. The plan is to go home and work really hard and hopefully have a good year next year. We all want to make a long run next season, so we've all got to go home and be better prepared for the upcoming season.

DITTRICK: I was looking up your stats earlier and it's actually pretty amazing how much you played on the PK this year. More than 130 minutes, which was literally a half-an-hour more than the next-highest forward. That's no small feat and you probably don't get anywhere close to that number unless you love what you do, playing in that situation. Where did that passion come from?

LINDHOLM: For sure. I love it. Growing up, everyone wants to be that offensive player and score a ton of goals, but as your career goes along, you figure out what your strengths are and how you can best help your team.

I look back on my years in Carolina, and (Rod) Brind'Amour really saw the potential in me. I didn't play a lot on the PK my first two years, but he pushed me to get better and told me I could really (flourish) in that spot. I worked really hard at it and started to play more in that role in my third year. It's something I take a lot of pride in and have obviously continued to work hard at ever since I came here to Calgary.

I love playing big minutes and being able to help the team in all these different areas. A big part of the game is shutting the other teams' best players down, but being able to do that and still have an impact at the other end is what I take the most pride in. That's another thing I can continue to get better at, too, but at the end of the day, I'm very honoured to play that much and I'm thankful to get these opportunities.

DITTRICK: Interesting that you mention Brind'Amour. He seems to be pretty well-liked with the current Hurricanes. What was the player-coach relationship like with you two?

LINDHOLM: I really only had him as an assistant coach, or development coach. But he was great. He always believed in me and obviously, given his history in the game, knows what it takes to get to that next level. He really prepared me to get to that point and gave me the confidence to take a step in my first year with the Flames. I'm thankful for that. He was great for me.

DITTRICK: I know last off-season was anything but normal, but things are looking up, and hopefully we'll have a more typical summer ahead of us. Do you have anything special or fun planned?

LINDHOLM: Honestly, it will probably be pretty low key. I think I'll mostly be hanging out with my family and friends, work out, and try to get in some golf, fishing and paddle tennis. Nothing too crazy. I appreciate my family so much, so even getting the chance to see them and hang out is more than enough for me. Usually, we can go for a trip or something, but we haven't planned anything - so, for now, I'll be staying home and enjoying the weather.

DITTRICK: Well said, well said. Now, about your days a goaltender…

LINDHOLM: (Laughs) Oh boy.

DITTRICK: Why is the sudden switch to forward?

LINDHOLM: Honestly, I can't even remember what year it was - but I was growing a lot very quickly. I was a skater at this point but my back was hurting quite a bit from all the skating. So, I decided to try being a goalie. Our team was pretty good and we played a couple games, but I barely got any shots. It was so boring, so the decision was made. I had to go the other way.  

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