Filip Lindberg took over PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh back in April when the University of Massachusetts won its NCAA Division I hockey championship there.
Lindberg skated around the ice with the NCAA trophy, and maybe some day soon, he might to skate there with the Stanley Cup.
Lindberg signed a free agent contract with the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday. It’s a two-year, entry-level contract.
The native of Espoo, Finland, had been a seventh-round draft pick of the Minnesota Wild back in 2019. In June, it was reported that Lindberg and the Wild had been unable to come to a contract agreement. Lindberg’s agent filed paperwork that made the goalie a free agent on July 28, the day NHL free agency began.
“As far as Filip, we’re extremely excited to add him to the organization. Whenever you can get a good young goaltender, you’re obviously excited. We’ve got the two young kids and a couple of guys who are older, in their early 20s and obviously we’ve got our big guys,” Hextall said, referring to NHL keepers Tristan Jarry and Casey DeSmith. “I like to add to our system, and we’re excited to see him play this year.”
Lindberg had 25 saves in UMass’ 5-0 victory over St. Cloud State, a win that gave the Minutemen their first-ever NCAA hockey championship. Lindberg, who did not play in the semifinal because he was quarantined in Amherst due to COVID-19 contact tracing. He went 3-0 in NCAA Tournament play, with a 0.33 goals-against average and a .986 save percentage. He beat Lake Superior State 5-1, making 30 saves. Lindberg stopped 18 shots in a 4-0 shutout over Bemidji State, and then shut out Lake Superior. He had a shutout streak of 162 minutes, 46 seconds in the NCAA Tournament.
Matt Murray, who will return in goal for UMass, lost to Boston University 4-3 on Jan. 18. Lindberg got the call in net the next weekend as UMass tied Providence 0-0 and 1-1. After that, Lindberg and UMass never lost again. He went 5-0-2 starting with those ties, went 3-0 in the Hockey East Tournament and 4-0 in the NCAA Tournament.
“The one thing that we haven’t lost a game — we didn’t lose a game since the middle of January. I don’t know if that was 13, 14, 15 games in a row. And/or that over that span he may have only let in 10 or 12 goals,” UMass coach Greg Carvel said the night UMass won the title. “And he’s been — he was outstanding. I said this plenty of times, I think he’s the unwritten story of college hockey this year.”
Lindberg, a 6-foot-1, 104-pound goalie led the nation with a 1.24 goals-against average and a .949 save percentage.
In his three seasons at UMass, Lindberg has appeared in 49 games, going 29-9-6 with a 1.55 goals-against average, a .937 save percentage and 11 shutouts. His .937 save percentage is best in program history, while his 29 wins are fifth-most.
By signing the contract, Lindberg will return to the PPG ice for at least some of Pittsburgh’s preseason camp. Hextall, a former standout goalie with the Philadelphia Flyers, said that he didn’t expect the former Minuteman to start in Pittsburgh.
“I would anticipate him certainly starting in the minors,” said Hextall. “He showed a lot of promose last year and won the national championship. It’s an exciting day for us in terms of signing Filip.”
Chances are good that Lindberg would start in the American Hockey League with Pittsburgh’s team in Wilkes Barre-Scranton. If that is the case, his first appearances back in New England would be Friday, Oct. 29 in Hartford and Saturday, Oct. 30 in Springfield.