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UMass goalie Filip Lindberg stands on the precipice of history, but you’d never know it. He’s been holding court with national media for two weeks now. He’s still in his first season away from his native Finland, yet he fields questions from all angles like an upperclassman. Ben Barr, the coach who recruited this Nordic manchild, never doubted his mettle.
“His English is perfect,” Barr said. “You know after talking one time with him that he would be a pretty impressive kid.”
Lindberg faced a rash of adversity in this, his NCAA debut year, stuff that would buckle the knees of a strong kid. Lindberg’s competition in goal, Matt Murray, was having a banner year, relegating Fille to the distant reaches of the UMass bench. Lindberg took a three-week sabbatical at the World Juniors, and his reward for an IIHF gold medal was an illness that sidelined him even longer. It wasn’t rock bottom, but it was close.
“It was a rough time for me,” Lindberg said. “I missed probably eight games, because the World Juniors and then I got sick in February.”
A stranger in a strange land, Lindberg turned to a comrade back in Finland for solace. “My best friend Olli, he’s in the military,” Lindberg said. “He’s been a great friend for me for five years. He would say, ‘Keep going,’ during rough times, ‘don’t give up.’”
For kid who just turned 20, Lindberg showed impressive maturity in figuring out a way to cope with his crisis. The display of character did not go unnoticed.
“He’s a really mentally strong young man,” Barr said. “He never complained, he never gave anyone a funny look, every time he got a chance to go in, he went in and played well.”
Sometimes, the unscripted drama of sports presents us with stories of perseverance rewarded. On March 15, destiny called Lindberg. UMass fell into a 3-0 hole in its Hockey East quarterfinal opener, and Lindberg got the season-changing tap on the shoulder. He was living proof of sports’ age-old success formula: preparation. “I gave everything every single day, ready for my opportunity,” Lindberg said. “I got it, and I played well.”
That’s a major understatement. Including that relief appearance, the freshman has given up just three goals in his five postseason games. Even in the UMass loss to Boston College in the Hockey East semis, the kid remained unflappable.
“Fille played really well in that game even though we lost,” Barr said. “We didn’t score a goal in that game, so it’s hard to win when you don’t score a goal.”
Lindberg kept his job, and rewarded the faith of his coaches with an impeccable two games in the NCAA Northeast Regional: 30 shots, 30 saves.
And now this blonde Nord is on the biggest stage in college hockey, with the full support of his team as they look to slay two dragons. Don’t bother reminding Lindberg that he is a mere freshman.
“I don’t really care I’m a freshman,” Lindberg said. “It doesn’t matter. It’s the same game. I’m just going to do what I do.
“It’s a big opportunity for us, a big tournament. We’re just going to do what we’ve been doing the whole season, just play UMass hockey.”