📝 by Ryan Smith | AHL On The Beat
One look at the Springfield Thunderbirds’ Charlie Lindgren will show you that he is inspired by a past era of goaltenders ― to a time when mustaches, slicked hair and, yes, even some extra-bushy sideburns were the norm for netminders who wanted to look good and feel good while stopping blistering slap shots.
And sure, maybe the legend of “Chuckie Sideburns” would not have become a social media sensation had it not been for longtime hockey analyst Darren Pang’s coining of the nickname. However, Lindgren’s last 30-plus days have proven that in the blink of an eye, a hockey player can go from a state of relative anonymity to one of folk-hero status.
Lindgren signed with the St. Louis Blues on a two-way contract last summer, and while his plans figured to include AHL time, he also did not want to pigeon-hole himself into that mindset.
“In my mind, I’ve always believed that I’m an NHL goalie,” said the Lakeville, Minn., native. “I had 20-plus games with Montreal, and I thought I always played well when I got my chance up there. I was just a guy that was waiting in the weeds looking to just get my next chance somewhere else.”
Fast-forward to December, and St. Louis’s number-one Jordan Binnington found himself entering COVID-19 protocols. Lindgren, by a combination of his 8-1-1 start with Springfield and the Blues’ tight salary cap-restrictions, was summoned on an emergency recall to mainly serve as a backup to Ville Husso. Then on Dec. 7, Husso was injured in a start against the Florida Panthers.
Lindgren’s new NHL chance had arrived. He stepped onto the ice and picked up a victory against Florida in relief of Husso. Now with Lindgren as the de facto number one netminder, the Blues were hopeful his red-hot start would translate at the NHL level.
They could not have been more on the money in that assessment. Five games later, Lindgren was a perfect 5-0-0. He had stopped 113 of 118 NHL shots in that time. But it would be the second win, and his first start out of those five wins, that put Lindgren on all the front pages in St. Louis, on the evening of Dec. 11.
In his first NHL start since March 7, 2020, Lindgren’s opponent would be a familiar one ― the Montreal Canadiens. Lindgren had spent his first five professional seasons bouncing between Montreal and the Habs’ affiliates in St. John’s and Laval. He would make 24 NHL appearances in that span, but with each passing chance, Lindgren would invariably see himself back in the AHL despite posting better career NHL numbers than AHL ones.
The game against Montreal played out the way many pundits could have anticipated. A formidable Blues offense out-muscled an overmatched Canadiens lineup, and Lindgren’s night would be relatively painless, as the right-gloved goaltender made 22 saves in a 4-1 St. Louis win, his 11th career NHL victory.
In the world of Twitter in 2021, where memes are about as voluminous as any other form of content, Lindgren stepped to the headset for a postgame interview and uttered a four-syllable phrase that told a story pages deeper.
“Frickin’ A, right?”
“I felt [that in] my last five years there ― there was some frustration. That game was pretty personal to me,” Lindgren readily admitted. “Being able to beat them ― that ‘Frickin’ A, right’ – that was just right from the heart. That win meant a lot to me and my family.”
The momentum Lindgren gained from that victory was palpable. He would win his next three starts in succession, each time allowing just a single tally to his opponent, all the while leading the Blues back near the top of the Central Division standings thanks in large part of a throng of Thunderbirds call-ups pressed into duty and rising to the challenge.
“There have been a lot of Birds called up that have produced. The coaching staff up there has been really proud of the way we’ve done and how we’ve carried ourselves,” said Lindgren. “I felt like there was a lot of momentum going for me; I think I went into every game knowing that I was going to win and that the team was going to win ― that’s a really good feeling.”
Another Darren Pang-ism ― the “Springfield Express” ― has proven to be as quintessential as any other reason to the Blues’ 19-10-5 start. Since the start of the season, eight different Thunderbirds have made their way to St. Louis, and each has put their stamp on the Blues’ future plans. While some, like Scott Perunovich and Logan Brown, have carved out more permanent roles at the next level, even those who have returned to Springfield ― like Lindgren ― have felt a unique bond with one another as each individual chases their professional dream.
“This organization does things the right way. The coaching staff in St. Louis and here, and the management all have really good communication,” said Lindgren. “There’s a brotherhood up in the room in St. Louis, and I think we can say the same thing here. We’re a really tight-knit group. We have a lot of fun coming to practice, competing with each other and just trying to get better.”
While Lindgren may not have had the chance to be in gear for the Blues’ Winter Classic win over the Wild, it did not dampen the experience for the Minnesota native, who skated with both of his parents on the Target Field outdoor rink on New Year’s Eve.
“I don’t think my dad’s put on the boots in about 10 years. He was my first goalie coach growing up. The way Minnesota put that whole event on was a really great time, and really cold. I think that’s the coldest I have ever been.”
The Blues were anything but cold on that night, posting a 6-4 New Year’s Day win over their division foes.
A week has passed since Lindgren’s homecoming trip, and while he may hold some disappointment to be returning to the AHL, Chuckie Sideburns’ positive disposition has not changed. If anything, it has him further validated that his next NHL tenure will not be far off.
“It’s never fun getting sent down, but I know if I have a good attitude and continue to work hard ― which I know I will ― things are going to work out. That’s my mindset ― a day-to-day mindset. We have a great team that competes hard. In my mind, I know I can play at the highest level, and my goal is obviously to eventually get back there.”