A reporter interviewing Tampa Bay's Mike Lundin
during the NHL's All-Star Weekend asked the rookie defenseman about his favorite goal. The question stopped him in his tracks.
"I don't have many," he finally said. "I don't even know. I don't have an NHL goal."
He still doesn't. But that doesn't mean the Lightning are unhappy with him.
Lundin is one of the few bright spots in an otherwise disappointing season for the Bolts. The 23-year-old from Burnsville, Minn., Tampa Bay's fourth-round pick in the 2004 Entry Draft, surprised a lot of people by making the Lightning straight out of the University of Maine, where he played four seasons.
Though Lightning coach John Tortorella is also a Maine alum, he hadn't seen Lundin play until the 6-foot-1, 195-pounder arrived in camp. But Lundin impressed Tortorella immediately with his positional play and his ability to understand the Lightning's system. An injury to star defenseman Dan Boyle
created an opening, and Lundin filled it.
"It was kind of a shock," Lundin said of making the team right out of college. "I just kept going. I feel lucky that I got the chance to play."
Lundin wasn't an offensive defenseman in college — his highest goal total was six, in his senior year, and he had just 12 goals and 59 points in four years with the Black Bears. But he's been solid in his own zone and has six assists and a plus-6 rating while averaging nearly 14 minutes a game. He was even good enough to be selected to the YoungStars Game on All-Star Weekend — not bad for a kid no one expected to be in the NHL.
"I'm happy to be here and I love to be playing at this level," he said. "It's pretty stressful trying to compete, trying to bring my game to that level. It's definitely been a stressful year, but I've loved every minute of it."
Like most Minnesota kids, Lundin was introduced to hockey at a young age.
"I always loved to play hockey," he said. "It has always been my favorite sport. I loved the physicalness of it. I don't think it was until college that I really decided I wanted to make a career out of hockey. I had played baseball, and I thought of trying to play baseball in college.
"My parents sacrificed for me. Whatever I wanted, they always got me. If I wanted to play on a team in the summer, they'd drive me. But they pushed school, which helped me, too, with the discipline. They're both teachers, and their discipline has helped me a lot."
Lundin he wasn't in big demand after playing for a small-town high school. That's how he wound up at Maine, an unusual destination for a young player from the Land of 10,000 Lakes.
"I flew under the radar. I wasn't a big recruit," he said. "I was coming right out of high school, and not many schools wanted a kid from Apple Valley High School. The Minnesota schools wanted me to go play in the USHL, but Maine wanted me to play the next year, and it's tough to turn down a school like Maine.
|Lundin played in the NHL YoungStars Game during the NHL All-Star Weekend in Atlanta.
"It's a great program, everywhere I go someone always has a connection there. They do a good job of getting guys ready for the next level."
So does playing against some of the NHL's most talented forwards in practice — and with them in games. Though the Lightning have struggled this season, they have two of the NHL's top forwards in Vincent Lecavalier
and Martin St. Louis
"They're tremendous players," Lundin said of the Lightning's All-Star forwards. "They compete so hard. That was the big thing I noticed when I first got there. I realized that no matter how big a star they were, they didn't take a practice off or a shift off. They compete to the fullest all the time. That's something I took from them.
"Every day in practice, I play against Lecavalier and I'll say; 'How did he do that?' and 'Can I do that some day?'" You try to learn, but I don't think you can just pick things up by watching. He'll be ready to shoot and he'll see a guy behind him. Every day I'm amazed at the plays this guy makes at this level."
Lundin says another thing that has impressed him has been the fan support the Lightning get in a non-traditional hockey market.
"I've enjoyed Montreal and Toronto because of the intensity of the fans, but I've been extremely impressed with Tampa's fans," he said. "I didn't realize they had that kind of a following down there. To put 20,000 people in a building in Florida is pretty impressive."
So is making the NHL right out of college. The Lightning have limited his time against top-caliber forwards and limited his ice time on occasion, but they've been pleased with what he's been able to contribute.
"He doesn't do anything great," Tortorella said, "but with him, it's his awareness, where he is on the ice. You can't teach awareness like that."