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Esa Lindell’s father, Ari-Pekka Lindell, just missed being able to go on the Dallas Stars annual dad’s trip, which concludes Monday with the game against Washington Capitals.
That’s because Lindell’s father had just completed a two-week stay in the United States, and had to return home after watching his son play in North America for the first time.
“It didn’t work because he bought the ticket a while ago, before we knew about the dad’s trip,” Lindell said last week.
While his dad didn’t get to travel, it was a proud moment for the Lindell family.
“Hopefully he liked to see the games live, his English is not even close to what I got now,” Lindell said. “But he seemed to work out here, it’s been a while since he’s seen me play.”
Back in Finland the Lindell family wakes up early to watch Stars games that typically start around 3:30 am local time back home. They did the same thing when Lindell played in the AHL last season, and the family has sacrificed lots of sleep to watch the 22-year-old live out his NHL dream.
“They are happy for me,” Lindell said. “I was happy that he was able to watch me play in person.”
Lindell said his father typically watches the Stars games before going to work, where he oversees candy and bread production at a factory in Finland.
“It’s good, it’s different than the things here,” Lindell said. “Like we have Snickers and Twix, but I think it’s better what he makes.”
While Lindell’s father makes candy, the Stars are hoping the 22-year-old defenseman can turn into a sweet find on the ice.
Lindell has had an up-and-down NHL rookie season that started back in September when he played for Finland in the World Cup of Hockey 2016. In the World Cup, Lindell only played one game for the Finns and he looked slow and out of place against Team North America (in his defense, one of the fastest teams you could assemble).
When the NHL season started Lindell went through stretches of strong play, followed by stretches of struggles and he was sent down to the AHL for a pair of games early in the season.
“The small things you can work on all the time, so that’s something I needed to get better (at),” Lindell said. “Things in the D-zone, there is less time, so you need to be skating all the time and I got better at that.”
Around the midpoint of the season the Stars paired Lindell with John Klingberg for good and seemingly committed to that pairing as a top unit for the future. That pair had it’s frustrations, but Lindell started to turn a corner the past month — around the same time his father came to watch — and started getting an even larger role after Dallas dealt veterans Johnny Oduya and Jordie Benn away before the trade deadline.
“I think John was part of his own problems at times, it wasn’t necessarily his partner,” Stars coach Lindy Ruff said. “But when you can build that confidence and you know what to expect with each other, a lot like (Alex) Goligoski and Klingberg did last year, it’s important. I think a pair can stay together for a long time. Sometimes during a season, they may get switched up from game to game, but if you like a pair, they usually end up together.”
In his past eight games Lindell has played at least 22 minutes and he’s surpassed 24 minutes three times during that stretch. It’s been a showcase for Lindell’s strength, who has out performed the rest of the Stars defense when it comes to physically moving an opponent away from the Stars net.
“He’s a strong man on his skates. You don’t see him on the ice very often. Where you see other big defenseman that will get knocked down, that will be falling down, you don’t see him on the ice,” Ruff said. “He’s got one of the best sticks. We did a drill a couple days ago in practice where I just told him to yell next, bring on the next guy because he was that good at the drill.”
Lindell does have his detractors, and the underlying analytics (he has a 48.54 CF% this season) aren’t pretty. But the Finn is trending in the right direction with his recent play, and should be a long-term cog in the Stars defense.
“He’s an incredibly strong young man. He’s the strongest defenseman we have when it comes to battles, I’ll just tell you that right now,” Ruff said. “Just needs games, he’s well on his way to 80 (this season).”