On Feb. 24, at just around 7 p.m., Hartford Wolf Pack center Oscar Lindberg had a date at Madison Square Garden with a dream he'd been chasing since childhood.
In 8:18 of ice time spread over 16 shifts, the Skelleftea, Sweden, native was on the ice for his first career NHL game with the New York Rangers, one that will linger in his memory forever, regardless of how many more come after it.
"I was kind of nervous the first couple of shifts, but I think as the game went on, I felt more comfortable," Lindberg said. "I'll remember that day for the rest of my life, that's for sure."
Lindberg, selected in the second round (No. 57) of the 2010 NHL Draft by the Arizona Coyotes and acquired by the Rangers in a 2011 trade, played for Skelleftea of the Swedish Hockey League and was MVP of the SHL playoffs in 2013 before making his debut in the American Hockey League last season.
For some, the shift to the North American style can be a difficult one. Finding ways to translate what worked isn't always easy playing on smaller ice, and with players whose skill-sets often differ from the European game.
"You have to make decisions quicker here, and I think that is one of the biggest things I've struggled with, but it has been better the more I've played here," Lindberg said. "[The AHL's] a good league, and there's a lot of skilled players and guys working hard. It's a tough league, for sure."
Lindberg's first season with Hartford saw him net 18 goals and 44 points in 75 games to finish second in scoring on the Wolf Pack. In his second year, Lindberg hasn't missed a step. He again is second in scoring with 16 goals and 36 points in 54 games, and his plus-5 rating ties him for second among Wolf Pack forwards. Last weekend, he scored game-winning overtime goals in back-to-back games against Springfield and Lehigh Valley.
"I try to be a good two-way center," Lindberg said. "My defensive game and my faceoffs have been something I've been taking pride in all my career, but I think offensively I can contribute with some goals and points here and there."
Lindberg had an ally in Jesper Fast last season, using the fellow Swede to help buffer the culture shock and uncertainty that often comes with the territory when moving across an ocean. But even though having Fast there was a comfort, his countryman's eventual recall and subsequent permanent stay with the Rangers didn't hinder Lindberg.
Instead, he jumped at the opportunity to speak with his teammates in English, and master the language he had begun to learn while in school back home.
"I think he was pretty well-adjusted," Wolf Pack coach Ken Gernander said. "I think maybe sometimes he was a little more accustomed to having that extra 10, 15 feet with the wider rink, so things sometimes develop a little quicker. But structurally, tactically, everything was pretty status quo for him."
Lindberg was relied upon in a top-six role from the start last season, getting big minutes and shouldering a lot of the offensive and defensive responsibilities. Gernander notes that when able to, he and his staff tried to bump Lindberg to a lesser role in order to alleviate some of that pressure.
"I think he actually responded better. It freed him up a little bit," Gernander said. "Now he's obviously grown into a top-six center in the AHL, and can pretty much handle all tasks. He's just a more complete and more mature player; it's been a steady progression and development for him."
Though he was with the Rangers for one game before heading back to Hartford, the effect was both immediate and lasting. Allowed to get a glimpse of just what the NHL is about, Lindberg's new insight into the next step from the Wolf Pack gave him something to measure up against for the future.
"I saw right away that the guys were stronger, bigger, and more skilled too. But I just think if I keep playing good hockey, the chance will come again," he said. "But it's good to see how professional guys are up there, and that you need to be a really good player to play at that level consistently."
For Gernander, an AHL Hall of Famer and former Ranger himself, the steady uptick in Lindberg's development offensively and defensively has been noticeable in his season and a half of AHL time.
"He's very committed to becoming better on faceoffs. He's had good success here this season with his percentages and things like that," Gernander said. "Playing at the NHL level, I think his whole game will translate well. He has offensive upside, and what team wouldn't want that?"
For more news, scores, and stats from around the American Hockey League, follow @TheAHL on Twitter and visit theahl.com