Lundin Evolving Into Elite Blueliner

It really won’t be an earth-shattering surprise to any of his friends, teammates or coaches if and when Maine defenseman Mike Lundin hears his name called June 26 at the RBC Center in Raleigh, N.C.

The 19-year-old Lundin is projected by the NHL’s Central Scouting Bureau as a second-rounder in the NHL Entry Draft, and is currently ranked 54th among North American skaters eligible for the draft.

“This [getting drafted] would definitely be another step in attaining my goal of playing in the NHL,” said Lundin from his family’s home in Minnesota. “It’ll be great, but I’m also focused on returning to Maine and really trying to help that hockey program any way that I can.

“I don’t see myself leaving school early at this point, and I’ll definitely stay until I feel like there isn’t any more room for improvement at that level.”

The lefty shooter jumped straight into Hockey East action this past season for the Black Bears, not missing a beat coming directly from the high school hockey program at Apple Valley High School in Minnesota.

Lundin tallied three goals and 14 assists (second on the team among defensemen) in 44 games during a prolific first season skating in the Harold Alfond Sports Arena and aided his Black Bears in making it to the Frozen Four championship game.

In fact, the solid frosh was in action during the frantic 6-on-3 conclusion to the 1-0 NCAA title loss to Denver — a distinction that showed the respect Lundin earned in his inaugural collegiate campaign.

“We had to have a lot of faith in him as a freshman because he was out there at the very end on that 6-on-3 against Denver,” said Maine coach Tim Whitehead. “He’s a skilled two-way defenseman who we feel will be effective running the point on our power play. He’s got a great wrist shot, good, soft hands, is a swift skater and a player who is adept at visualizing the play before it develops. He uses his smarts on the ice.

“And, away from the ice, he’s a very likable kid who works hard and is really popular with his teammates. He just has a very friendly air about him.”

The Lundin ice story was almost put into deep freeze for a year before the unplanned departure of defensman Francis Nault opened a spot for the Minnesota schoolboy star. Maine assistant coach Grant Standbrook trekked out to Minnesota, scouted Lundin during the summer of 2003, and, within weeks the 6-foot-2, 180-pounder had signed an August letter of intent with the Black Bears.

“I think within a week of deciding to play for Maine, I was there for an orientation and getting ready to go to school,” said Lundin. “It happened pretty fast.”

What Standbrook and the rest of the Maine coaching staff saw — and what Hockey East opponents would soon discover — was a hustling blueliner with some polished skills in the offensive zone and a budding quarterback on the man advantage.

They were skills Lundin put on display during a career chock full of accolades while starring for Apple Valley High. He led the team in scoring as a defenseman (six goals, 17 assists in 27 games) his senior season, was named AP Minnesota Hockey Player of the Year in 2003 and Minnesota Star-Tribune Metro Hockey Player of the Year, and was also a runner-up for Minnesota’s Mr. Hockey Award.

“Mike was just a great player for us,” said Apple Valley coach Jerry Hayes. “He was a talented offensive performer with a deadly wrist shot, but he really stood out in his ability to take the other team out of their game plan.

“He could disrupt the attack in the neutral zone, and I can’t remember one instance in his three years where an opposing player beat him to the net,” added Hayes. “He was a vital part of one of Minnesota’s top ranked high school teams for three years, and typically logged 38-40 minutes for us in a 45 minute game.”

The soon-to-be sophomore expressed a desire to improve his strength and grittiness in the defensive zone next season, and will also look forward to hearing a familiar voice barking orders from the goalie crease. Apple Valley goalie Matt Lundin will join his older brother on the Orono campus next season, helping to form an unusual Minnesota-to-Maine hockey pipeline.

“I’m sure he’ll let me know about it if somebody gets past me when he’s in the crease, but I’ll get on him when he lets up a soft goal,” joked the elder Lundin of the fraternal ice pairing. “We really enjoyed playing together in high school and it’s something we’re looking forward to.”

Hayes voiced surprise that a blue chip Minnesota hockey prospect like Lundin could slip through the five hole of the WCHA and find his way to the northern reaches of New England.

“I’ve got to say that I’m a little disappointed that four Minnesota schools in the WCHA didn’t really show interest in Mike,” said Hayes, adding that Maine was the only college that made Lundin a full-blown offer. “Obviously, you can’t keep every player that comes out of Minnesota, but Mike was one of the elite hockey players in the state.”

Lundin will officially join the status of hockey elite if one of the 30 NHL teams calls his name later this month.

(This article originally appeared in this month’s edition of USCHO Magazine.)