Career year has Lind closing in on Cup

Photo: Mike Zitek

📝 by Patrick Williams

PALM DESERT, Calif.Kole Lind chuckled.

So did teammates Joey Daccord and Andrew Poturalski, seated next to their Coachella Valley Firebirds teammate at the media dais following Game 1 of the Calder Cup Finals.

Lind had just picked up three assists, taking his Calder Cup Playoff-leading point total to 26 (seven goals, 19 assists) in a 5-0 rout of the visiting Hershey Bears. Beyond the numbers on the scoresheet, he had agitated a Bears team getting its first look at the Firebirds this season. Some of the Bears knew Lind, an abrasive forward, from his Eastern Conference days with the Charlotte Checkers and Utica Comets. Others did not.

Now they all do. It was a good night at Acrisure Arena for Lind and his teammates, and the mood was light.

Hershey has displayed a well-honed knack for irritating opponents throughout the Calder Cup Playoffs. A ferocious forecheck, particularly from Hershey’s fourth line, had disrupted Charlotte, Hartford and Rochester in previous series this spring. Typically it has been the Bears dictating a game’s style and pace.

Instead on Thursday, it was Lind and the Firebirds who initiated physically and otherwise, particularly in the first 10 minutes as two unfamiliar opponents worked to introduce themselves as quickly as possible. Then the Firebirds answered some more, both physically and on the scoreboard. It is no secret that the Firebirds can wear down opponents with their exceptional speed. Their off-puck play is elite. Several times they lured Hershey into missed defensive coverages. Chase the Firebirds long enough, and even the best-conditioned opponent will tire.

But the Firebirds have shown that they can implement a hard-nosed game and match that sort of approach from opponents, too. Head coach Dan Bylsma has used Lind on a line with captain Max McCormick and Alexander True. The Firebirds’ abundant speed and skill draw the most attention, but this is a line that can irritate even the most composed of opponents. Coachella Valley had seen some of that size and brawn from the Milwaukee Admirals in the Western Conference Finals. Hershey brought more of it.

Did Lind like to initiate? A rhetorical question, to be sure, and one that elicited those chuckles from Lind, Daccord, and Poturalski.

“Not really,” Lind joked in response.

Of course Lind likes to initiate, and that drew plenty of attention from the Bears.

“Frustrate them as much as we can and then execute when we get the chances. If it’s them taking a dumb penalty and then us going on the power play… Just trying to get momentum however we can is the biggest thing, for sure.

“Speaking for a lot of us as a team, we like to show it on the scoreboard.”

The work that Lind and his teammates invested early in the contest began to pay off, especially in the third period when Coachella Valley broke the game open.

“I know play opened up in the third period there,” Lind said, “and I think that comes with us just playing the right way and frustrating them and then creating those turnovers and executing on those plays when they do turn the puck over.”

Lind and the Firebirds are showing that they can blend both top-level skill with enough of the necessary abrasiveness for a deep Calder Cup Playoff run. The parent Seattle Kraken cannot help but notice. Selected in the second round of the 2017 National Hockey League Draft by Vancouver, Lind spent four seasons in the Canucks organization but could only break into 17 NHL games before being exposed in the 2021 expansion draft.

Lind played a career-high 23 games in the NHL last season, and had 35 points in 46 games with AHL Charlotte as the Kraken shared an AHL affiliate with the Florida Panthers. This season in Coachella Valley, Lind hit season highs in goals (30), assists (32) and points (62) while playing all 72 of Coachella Valley’s games this season and still maintaining his customary grinding style.

Troy Bodie serves as Seattle’s director of hockey and business operations. He was the organization’s first on-the-ground presence in the Coachella Valley as the Kraken were assembling their first full AHL affiliate. The former tough NHL and wing also spent last season skipping across North America to connect with Kraken prospects like Lind in Charlotte.

“Kole is just getting more consistent as the years have gone on,” Bodie said. “His game’s developing. He’s got a lethal shot. He’s a big man. He’s strong. He likes to have the puck, but he has a good combination of size and shooting ability, scoring ability.

“He finds ways to get on the scoresheet in a lot of ways.”

And then there has been this playoff run, both for the Firebirds and the 24-year-old Lind. Lind said it was a goal of the team to still be playing when forwards Andrew Poturalski and John Hayden were cleared to return from long-term injuries.

“We’ve had very tight competition in every series,” said Lind. “We had goals as a team. We wanted those guys to still have a chance to play hockey later in the season.

“We’ve gone through that, and now we’ve got the biggest stage set in front of us now.”