Chicago Steel defenseman Kevin Lind has followed a steep development curve the past few seasons. He moved up to the USHL in 2008-09 after having only played a couple months of midget major hockey with the Chicago Mission, and only a few years earlier, by his own admission, he shouldn't have even made Team Illinois' AAA pee wee 92 team. But, from those early days with Team Illinois when a coach took the young Lind because he saw what Lind could become, Lind's become a USHL All-Star, a two-time member of Team USA, and a certainty to be selected in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. In fact, outside of some of the defensemen with the U.S. National Team Development Program, which now plays in the USHL, Lind will probably be the first blueliner selected from the USHL ranks in Los Angeles come June.
McKeen's correspondent Kevin Wey had a chance to talk with Kevin Lind twice during January and. Lind discussed the Chicago native's selection to the USHL All-Star Game, his playing for Team USA at two tournaments, his development with the Steel, his commitment to Notre Dame, his youth hockey, and his favorite players of yesteryear and today (think Blackhawks and Olympians).
McKeen's: I don't know how to start this first question. I received an e-mail in my Inbox from Brian Werger (USHL Director of Communications) at 5:02 with the All-Star Game rosters. Are you aware of the All-Star rosters already?
Lind: I am not, no.
McKeen's: Alright. Well, I guess I'll be the one who tells you, and to start on a positive note, you were named to the All-Star Game for the East Division. So, first, congratulations! Second, what's your reaction?
Lind: Very excited, obviously. It's a great honor to be representing the East Division in the All-Star Game and representing my team. I'm happy that our coaches have brought me along over the last two years and gotten me to this point. I'm very proud.
McKeen's: Yeah. You Mark Anthoine, and Andrei Kuchin, I think that's all of them, were selected from the Steel. Also, going to back to another note that's more positive than tonight's result, over two months ago you were part of Team USA at the World Junior A Challenge in Summerside. For those who weren't able to watch it on TV or weren't there in person, tell me about your role on the team and who you paired with.
Lind: Well, I, being one of the younger guys on the team, I had a role where I wasn't too big playing wise. I played with Nick Jensen a little bit, and Nick Mattson, too. I was just trying to be a good teammate, support my country. It's obviously a huge honor when you get to wear that sweater. It was my second time, actually, doing that. I did it over in Europe earlier this summer. I didn't have that influential of a role on the team, but I'm sure any of these guys on my team would gladly trade places with me. So, it was a great honor. I'm just proud to say that coach [Jeff] Blashill and coach [Mark] Carlson selected me to the team.
McKeen's: How does the caliber of play and the style of play at the Challenge compare to what you play every night in the United States Hockey League?
Lind: It's a little bit different when you're playing those European teams. In the USHL, I find that it's more in-your-face hockey, hard forecheck and things like that, opposed to the Europeans, who kind of play a trap and kind of let you come to them. That was basically it. I mean, all of the teams were very talented and things like that.
McKeen's: How did Canada East and Canada West compare to what you play in the USHL?
Lind: Both the Canadian teams were very good, West especially. In the final game it was 2-1. There were a lot of great guys from the BCHL and the Alberta League playing on Canada West. They fought hard and it was a great game, but we came out on top. But, definitely a lot of talented guys on that team.
McKeen's: It's working that way for Team USA here lately, with the World Junior Championships, the World U-17 Hockey Challenge?
Lind: Yeah, me and my dad were just saying that. The Under 20's won, and then I think the Under-17's won, I think they might have won twice, and we won, too, in PEI.
McKeen's: It's going pretty well so far. You touched on Europe and how you were at the Ivan Hlinka Tournament with Team USA, where you guys finished fourth. What were the differences the factored into the level of success that the Challenge team had over the Under-18 Select Team?
Lind: The Challenge team (pauses), we had something to prove in both of them, but coming back as defending champions of the Junior A Challenge obviously was something that we knew right from the beginning and kind of motivated us. I wouldn't say that the Europe team, or the Hlinka Team, played bad at all. It's just tough when you get a group of guys thrown together in the mix. We were fortunate enough with the Junior A Challenge that it worked out. We made some huge strides on the Europe team. It doesn't always work out, teams thrown together like that, but I made friends for life and had a great experience.
McKeen's: Who were some of your teammates from Team USA at the Challenge that impressed you the most and why?
Lind: I'd have to say, on defense, it was probably Kevin Albers. He's a kid who's uncommitted to a college, or he was. I don't know if he's since committed. He's undrafted by the NHL and is just a great kid on and off the ice, working his bag off every day. Some of the other guys on the team had commitments and things like that, and I thought Kevin played a huge role on our team. He played absolutely great. Some of the guys up front, Jeff Costello, David Gerths, two guys who knew their roles as leaders on the team, they were a little bit bigger guys. Jeff likes to play physical and David kind of took on that role, too. They really led our team to the gold medal.
McKeen's: Going back to the Hlinka Tournament, the USHL had you operate a blog during that. How was it that you were selected to do that?
Lind: It was pretty exciting, actually. There were a couple, I think four, of us playing in the USHL who could have done it, and for Brian [Werger] to select me was an honor and I jumped on the opportunity. It was so cool, and my parents were sending it out to family and friends and things like that and they were following along. So, it was a great honor that he picked me to do it.
McKeen's: You had USHL experience heading into it, and you obviously play in the USHL now, so how did the play at the Hlinka Tournament compare to the USHL?
Lind: It was a good experience, good game speed, but it was obviously all 1992-birth years and under, so it wasn't as fast, as good. But, it definitely surprised me. It's the best kids from every country, all the hockey countries. So, it was more than I expected. It was up there.
McKeen's: When I talked with T.J. Tynan, he kind of had a similar response. A similar question as I had with the last tournament, who were Team USA teammates at the Hlinka Tournament who impressed you the most and why?
Lind: Probably one was, on defense, my defense partner Billy Eiserman. Kid was playing out East and committed to UMass-Lowell. Once again, just a great kid, works real hard, knows his role on the team, he was a big body, likes to play physical, and he got us really back into some games with his physicality and I thought he made huge strides in the 14 days that we were over there. He completely changed into a different person. T.J. [Tynan] and Connor Brickley on Des Moines, can't say enough about those two. I grew up playing with T.J., when we were younger. Obviously, very skilled, a very quick little player. Connor, physical guy with a scoring touch, too. So, they really impressed me.
McKeen's: Connor definitely is that. Going back to last season, I had the chance to watch you at the Midget Buc Bowl with the Mission, and then I think the very next week you were drafted sixth overall by the Steel and then the next time I see you again in late October, you're in the USHL already. So, tell me how it came to be, the process of coming to play for the Steel so soon.
Lind: It was a situation where I was fortunate that the Steel had one defenseman return home before the season had really got going, so that put them down, and then their captain, Mike Walsh, suffered a shoulder injury. So, that put me (changes tracks), coach Poapst wanted to get me in right away. One week I was playing with the Mission and I was at a private school and by the end of the week I had to transfer high schools and I was sitting in that locker room. I couldn't be more thankful to them for bringing me up and really developing me into the player I am today. It was a little scary at first, but you get used to it, you get into the swing of things. I had some great kids helping alone, too, like John Moore, and Philip Samuelsson, and Max Nicastro, and things like that. They're really good guys to look up to.
McKeen's: They kind of paved the road for you, in a way.
McKeen's: I saw with the Mission on Pointstreak, it seemed like they kept you, statistically, in the lineup for a while. When did you actually play your last game with the Mission?
Lind: I came on a road trip with the Steel and played Friday in Sioux City and Saturday in Sioux Falls. We got back early Sunday morning. I took my stuff and I went and I played against CYA (Chicago Young Americans) Sunday afternoon, and that was my last game with the Mission. It was at Heartland Ice Arena. I think we tied, actually, 3-3 or something like that. That was the last game I played with the Mission and coach Poapst called Tuesday and called my dad and told him they wanted me here.
McKeen's: Obvioulsy, you faced a pretty steep learning curve. With the Mission, you were in your first months of midget major so, in essence, you almost made the jump from midget minor to the USHL, realistically. So, tell me about that. What were the biggest adjustments for you?
Lind: I think (pauses), here, in the USHL, everybody can make a play. In Triple-A you get situations where (pauses), kids are good, but obviously to get here you have to be a top-notch player. Obviously, the game speed is a little bit quicker, you've got to make quicker decisions, but everybody can make a play here and everybody is the best growing up on their midget team. You've just got to be prepared to play every night.
McKeen's: In your time in the USHL, what do you feel are the areas you've improved in the most, especially last year, and then what are the areas that you're still concentrating on improving to take your game to the next level?
Lind: I think I'm really growing into a very good skater. I think I transition with the play well. For being 6-foot-3, I'm a pretty fast skater, pretty strong on my feet and things like that. A big thing that I need to work on is something that coach Poapst tells us all the time is poise with the puck. As a defenseman, he played in the NHL and I remember watching him in Chicago, because I'm from Chicago, and he was just a great, poised player. He really tries to get us to do that. I think that's one of the major things that I need to work on. Then, obviously, just little things, getting pucks through, making good passes, and things like that.
McKeen's: For those who haven't seen you play, what are the strengths of your game, and you touched on that a little bit, and the style that you play?
Lind: Skating, obviously. Like I said, is a big strength, making good passes. I try to play a defensive-style-of-game with a little scoring touch, maybe, not too big offensively like a John Moore or something like that. I like to take care of my own end first.
[Note: Interview ended at this point, but was continued a week later in Cedar Rapids.]
McKeen's: Well, it's good luck for me in that since the last time we talked, Central Scouting came out with their list and, if I remember right, they had you 32nd among North American skaters. How did you find out about that and what was your reaction?
Lind: I think my advisor actually called me and told me. Obviously, very honored. It's every hockey player's dream growing up to play in the NHL. When you see your name on the website like that, 32nd in all of North America, it's a great honor. So, I'm pretty excited.
McKeen's: I guess that goes well with a question I had planned to ask you later, but who is your advisor?
Lind: Kevin Magnuson with KO Sports.
McKeen's: You're committed to Notre Dame. When did colleges start contacting you originally, what other programs were recruiting you hard, and what made you decide in the end to become a Fighting Irish?
Lind: Well, I wasn't heavily recruited. Probably, about, the end of last year and into the summer. I came down to Minnesota, who was heavy on me, Notre Dame, and Boston College a little bit, too. I decided to go with Notre Dame because from 14 years on, I wanted to play for the Irish. My brother, he was lucky enough to attend Notre Dame. He wasn't a hockey player, just a regular education student, but I spent four years of my life visiting him and things like that and watching the games. There's just an atmosphere there, and really a school that words can't describe. It's an absolute honor to be going there. I'm really excited.
McKeen's: Chicago kind of, not necessarily lays claim to Notre Dame, but it definitely pays attention to Notre Dame that's for sure. Going back to the beginning of your hockey career, when was that and how did you get that start?
Lind: I started at age three, actually, just skating around, at Bridgeview Ice Arena. My dad played, probably when he was 14 or 15, and ended up playing club college and just fell in love with the game. He's been a Blackhawks season ticket holder since before I was born. He really got my brothers into it and then, obviously, me being the youngest child and having two older brothers, I wanted to do exactly what they were doing. So, hockey just came natural to me and I really took off with it. At age three I was skating around, skating faster than my mom. She was trying to hold my hand and I was wheeling around the rink. So, from a very early age I was just in love with the game.
McKeen's: I know that in midget minor and major you played for the Chicago Mission, but I also saw that you played for Team Illinois before that. So, what all organizations did you play for at the different age levels?
Lind: Growing up, I started learn to skate with the Chicago Hawks. I never actually played with them, because there were the Vikings of Orland Park, a 10-minute drive from my house. They started to become more popular, and Bridgeview was about a half hour, so we naturally went closer. Started with the Vikings from mite all the way until pee wees, then made the transition to Team Illinois. So, Vikings was really where I got my start.
McKeen's: If I might ask, what made you decide to make change from Team Illinois to the Mission?
Lind: It was just (pauses), the Mission had been talking to me four a couple years, always wanted me to come over, but we felt a loyalty to Team Illinois because my coach, Dave Steele. I really shouldn't have made TI my first year and he took me because I had potential. He told my dad a bunch of times, "We're not taking him for what he's going to do in October, I'm taking for what he's going to do in February." We felt loyal to him and then he ended up not getting the team, and we ended up losing that year to the Mission in the state championship. So, we felt it was best for my development that we move over to the Mission.
McKeen's: This is your draft year, and with your size and your resume, I think everyone expects you to go somewhere in the first three rounds, or at least early in the fourth round of the draft at this point. Do you ever think about the draft, do you have any expectations, maybe you do now, and what would it mean to you to be selected?
Lind: Obviously an honor. I try not to think about it too much. It's obviously there. I got a lot of help from John Moore, who was my teammate last year, went in the first round. You know? Just asking him, "What do you do?" Just getting some advice. It's obviously always going to be in the back of your mind, but not to worry about it too much. When you get to the draft, the season is going to have gone by quickly. It's obviously an honor to be chosen by any NHL team, anywhere, it doesn't even matter.
McKeen's: What was some of the advice that John Moore gave you?
Lind: He just kind of told me to enjoy the season. Like I said, it's going to go by quickly. You're going to play your best hockey when you're not thinking about it. When you're thinking, "What am I going to do in the draft," and stuff like that, your head's going to get big and you're not going to play as well. He just told me not to think about it too much.
McKeen's: Take care of each personal battle each shift, it'll stack up and take care of itself.
McKeen's: Lastly, who were some of your favorite players earlier in your youth and then some players today who are your favorites and, if there's a difference, players you feel you're similar to or would like to equate to?
Lind: Growing up, it was obviously some of the Hawks guys. Jake's (Jake Chelios) dad, Chris Chelios, Jeremy Roenick, guys like that. As you grow up, you realize you've got to start watching the guys that are the most like you to learn from. I really like how Chris Pronger plays, big puckmoving defenseman, which is obviously what I try to be like. The forwards know that he's not going to let them get near the goalie. He knows he's going to get hurt. So, Chris Pronger, and then, obviously being from Chicago, Duncan Keith, I like the way he plays a lot, and Brent Seabrook, too. They're both great players, and then being able to play for the country in 2010. So, it'll be good to see them up there.
McKeen's: It's been cool to see (pauses), I guess maybe there was some expectation that Brent might eventually play for his country (at the Olympics) many years ago, but for Duncan, I think it's really cool that he's reached that level.
Lind: Growing up, not too long ago, I remember going to games and seeing (pauses), you know, now there's 20,000 people in the stands, sold out every night, but there was four or five [thousand], and Duncan and Brent were there, a big part of the rebuilding. They've been through it all. It makes them the best Hawks, in my opinion, because they were there when there were four thousand people sitting in the stands, now there's 20,000. So, I really like to watch those guys. They can really play.