By Dave Werstine
Long Beach Press-Telegram
LONG BEACH, Calif. – The Ice Dogs’ road to the ECHL’s Kelly Cup might be as easy as Follow the Leader.
Veteran left wing Bill Lindsay just so happens to be that leader.
With the experience of 13 seasons in the NHL and trip to the Stanley Cup Finals on his resume, Lindsay is being counted on heavily to lead the young Ice Dogs as far as he can into the playoffs.
He didn’t waste any time, scoring a pair of goals in a hard-fought 3-2 victory over the defending champion Idaho Steelheads in Game 1 of their best-of-5 series on Wednesday night.
Game 2 is Friday at the Long Beach Arena, with Games 3 and 4 set for Idaho, if necessary.
“We have a lot of young and enthusiastic guys, but they haven’t been through the wars,” Ice Dogs coach Malcolm Cameron said. “To have a guy like Billy, who has been through the most pressure-packed situation of them all — the Stanley Cup — it’s immeasurable.”
“It helps,” Lindsay said of his experience, including 77 regular-season games in the NHL and his run to the Cup finals with the Florida Panthers in 1996.
Both of Lindsay’s goals were similar. He went hard to the net to bang in a rebound for his first goal. On the second, he crashed the net and one-timed a pass from the corner past Idaho goalie Frank Doyle.
“I put him in front of the net because he’s a warrior and he’ll take a beating. It’s like he’s immune to it,” Cameron said. “If you look at the goals that are scored in the playoffs, they are ugly goals — scrambles around the net — that you take a beating to score.”
Lindsay, the most veteran of Ice Dogs at 33, warns not to expect a pair of goals, or one even, every game. That’s not why he is here.
“We don’t expect him to score a ton of goals every game, but it’s the energy level he brings,” Cameron said. “Being able to change the momentum in a game, and knowing how to do it … that carries over to next guy on bench and the next shift on the ice.”
It carried over at the end of the season, as the Ice Dogs wrapped up second place in the West Division, third in the ECHL’s overall standings and home-ice advantage for at least the first round of the playoffs.
And it carried over in Game 1, as the Ice Dogs played with the intensity of their leader in taking a 1-0 series lead into Friday’s game.
“His forechecking pressure … guys feed off of it,” Cameron said. “When he gets going, it’s contagious.”
“We just have to follow what he does,” added rookie Michael Lambert.
Coming off an injury-plagued year that allowed him to play just 37 games, Lindsay had a slow start. While trying to get his legs back in shape, he certainly didn’t have the impact of, say, Alaska’s Scott Gomez, right away.
Lindsay, who finished the season with 9 goals, 14 assists and a — 8, was slowed by missing 19 of his first 28 games due to injuries. But since his return to the lineup in early February, he has gotten better and better. And over the past few weeks, he has returned to form.
Not surprising, just in time for the playoffs.
“This is more my kind of game,” Lindsay said of the physical, grinding type of play the playoffs tend to produce.
Once you’ve been to the Stanley Cup Finals, playing regular-season games in the ECHL has to less than exciting. But the playoffs, at any level, get players going. And Lindsay is no different.
“It gives me more motivation to play,” he admitted. “It (the playoffs) is meaningful. This is it.”
He promised his teammates he would be ready to go come playoff time, and he is delivering.
“He told us all year that he’d be ready for the playoffs, and obviously he showed what he can bring to hockey club,” rookie linemate Nathan Martz said. “He is a great asset on the ice and off the ice with his leadership.
“His work ethic — if just half of us can work as hard as he does every night, we are going to do fine every night. He’s a great role model for all of us.”