Lowell Lock Monsters season preview

By Glen Jackson






Title: Lowell Lock Monsters season preview

For the Lowell Lock Monsters, 2003-04 was a season they’d like to take
what they can from and move forward.
They finished second worst in the Atlantic Division and missed the
playoffs, though the 32 wins was a somewhat respectable total.

 

Again this season the Calgary Flames and Carolina Hurricanes will be the
affiliates to the Lock Monsters, and with two teams feeding prospects to the
club and paying the bills it’s an advantageous arrangement for Lowell who is
poised to improve in 2004-05. The
Hurricanes will provide at least 10-12 players and a goalie while the Flames
will supply the team with 10 players including a goalie.

 

Goaltending

 

Some thought that Rob Zepp
might get his chance with the Lock Monsters this season but the presence of
rookie Cam Ward in camp due to the
NHL lockout landed Zepp back with the ECHL’s Florida Everblades, the team he
led to the Kelly Cup finals in 2003-04.
Zepp appeared for only half a game in the preseason and had a 1.97 GAA
and .938 save percentage. Hurricanes
General Manager Jim Rutherford had made it known on several occasions during
the offseason that he planned to have Ward – the Hurricanes No. 1 rated
prospect – start the season sharing time with Martin Gerber, sending the WHL
star straight into the NHL. Although the
lockout ends up knocking Zepp back down a notch, the bright side is that Ward
avoids a less than ideal development situation where he would have been
spending time on the bench or facing a firing squad with the Hurricanes right
out of junior.

 

Craig Kowalski was the
third Hurricanes keeper at the start of camp and he put up similar numbers to
Zepp in a half game in which the Northern Michigan alumnus posted a 1.96 GAA
and .917 save percentage. In fact, it
was Ward that had the worst numbers of the three with a 4.22 GAA and a .833
save percentage, also in a half game, but in all three cases the statistical
performance is rendered almost meaningless when it is approximately 30 minutes
of play that is being compared. The
fact is, it would have been difficult for Ward not to end up with Lowell to
start the season, and his inter-squad play was strong enough that the team had
confidence in him. Like Zepp, Kowalski
will start the season with the Everblades.

 

Calgary Flames goaltenders Sebastian
Centomo
and Davis Parley were
sent to camp by the parent club but like Zepp and Kowalski, they didn’t stand
much of a chance of making the team with Brent
Krahn
present. Krahn, the Flames
No. 1 goaltending prospect, put up great numbers in 14 games last season with
Las Vegas Wranglers of the ECHL (2.61 GAA, .925 save percentage). He played 21 AHL games for San Antonio
Rampage and Lowell combined, and finished strong in Lowell. In seven games he had a GAA of 2.62 and a
save percentage of .924. Centomo was
credited with a preseason win in a game against Worchester when he relieved
Kowalski halfway through the game and ended up allowing four goals. However, in the shootout he shut the door
and didn’t allow a goal, and the Lock Monsters won 6-5.

 

Despite that strong finish to an otherwise poor game, Centomo was sent
down to the ECHL’s Las Vegas shortly afterwards. Parley was lackluster in his performance in camp and in preseason
where his half game resulted in him getting credit for a loss with two goals
allowed. Overall, Parley didn’t have
enough to beat out Krahn and was sent down to the ECHL Texas Wildcatters last
week, unable to establish himself as being ready for the AHL.

 

Lowell will start the season with the highest rated goalie from each of
the two affiliated clubs, Ward and Krahn.
It will be interesting to see how both do this season, Ward in his first
pro campaign, and Krahn who will try to continue trying to move forward in his
career after missing much of 2001-02 and 2002-03 due to knee surgery

 

Defense

 

The Flames signed Richie Regehr, the younger brother of the
Flames’ Robyn, as a free agent in July.
He recently told Hockey’s Future that even though he’s obviously not as
large as his older brother (Richie is 6’0, 190 lbs compared to Robyn at 6’2,
226 lbs), he still has a lot to offer.

 

"I think I’m a little more offensive, but I try to be just as good
defensively,” said the 21-year-old Regehr. “Obviously I don’t have the size but
I try not to back down from anything."

 

That offensive touch was obvious in the three preseason games he played
for Lowell. His 4 points (2 goals, 2
assists) was tops in scoring for the Lock Monsters and his +3 rating was also a
team best. Both of his goals came on
the power play, and it is expected that Regehr will appear on the first power
play unit for the Lock Monsters alongside Carolina’s 24-year-old offensive
defenseman, Brad Fast. Rutherford had expected Fast to battle for
one of the Hurricanes top six spots this season, and after his strong
performance in 2003-04 in his first full season in the AHL in which he had 10
goals and 25 assists in 79 games it wasn’t a surprise that he continued to do
well this preseason. Fast had 3 assists
for the Lock Monsters in his two preseason games.

 

Bruno St.Jacques had a good preseason and as expected the five-year pro
should be in the lineup in Lowell on Saturday when they face the Providence
Bruins on opening night. The
24-year-old St.Jacques was a +1 in 2 games played and performed well all
camp. In 2003-04 he appeared in 35 games
for the Hurricanes and was a -7.

 

Allan Rourke is also expected to nail down a spot. Rourke’s first pro season with the Carolina
organization was last season. In 45
games with Lowell he had 14 points and a +5 rating, and he also suited up for
25 games with the Hurricanes in which he was a +4 and added 3 points (1 goal, 2
assists).

 

The remaining openings on defense will be decided on shortly by the Lock
Monsters, but among the candidates is Calgary’s Brennan Evans, who played in 64 games for Lowell last season and
had 10 points in 69 games, as well as a +3 rating. He’s also had a strong camp and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see
Evans there. He also suited up for two
games during the Flames’ Stanley Cup run last year.

 

Then there is the big and burly Sean
Curry,
who seems incapable of falling out of favor with Hurricanes
management. Curry appeared in 74 games
for Lowell in 2003-04 and has had a decent camp.

 

In three preseason games, the Flames’ rookie Mark Giordano has done fairly well, even tallying a power play
marker in the 6-5 shootout game against the Worchester IceCats. Giordano was an OHL and CHL All-Rookie in
2002-03, and last season he was again strong for Owen Sound of the OHL on his
way to 49 points in 65 games.

 

The final defenseman of the group of five vying for one of two spots is Danny Richmond, Carolina’s top ranked
defensive prospect. Richmond spent last
season with the OHL’s London Knights where he notched 35 points (13 goals, 22
assists) in 59 games played. Some
didn’t expect Richmond to last this long in his first pro camp, but he’s held
on and is a -3 in three games played, and has an outside chance of seeing time
with Lowell this season.

 

One contender that failed to win the job was Calgary’s Deryk Engelland who, although -3 in
three preseason games played, did have 26 games of service with Lowell in
2003-04, but will begin the season in Las Vegas.

 

The starting six for the Lock Monsters will most likely be comprised of
Fast, St.Jacques, Rourke, Regehr, Evans and Giordano.

 

Forwards

 

The Lock Monsters lineup will boast a number of high profile players in
2004-05 including Eric Staal, Chuck Kobasew, Lynn Loyns, Mike Zigomanis,
Ryan Bayda and Matt Lobmardi.

 

Staal was the second overall pick in the 2003 Entry Draft and he had a
very good rookie campaign with the Hurricanes. Possibly the only thing holding
him back from being a star in the NHL is that his body still has some growing
to do. His 31 points was good enough
for ninth in the league in rookie scoring.
As with goaltender Ward, spending a season in the AHL won’t be a bad
thing for the 19-year-old.

 

Kobasew has already played parts of two seasons in the NHL, collecting
23 points (10 goals, 13 assists) in 93 games played. Although the 22-year-old spent all of 2003-04 in the NHL, he did
play 48 games in 2002-03 for the AHL’s Saint John Flames and amassed 33 points
(21 goals, 12 assists).

 

Loyns has already proven himself to be capable of a third or checking
line grinder-type role as he enters his fourth pro season. He’s a veteran of 160 games played at the
AHL level and 14 NHL games last season for San Jose and Calgary.

 

Which Mike Zigomanis will show up in 2004-05? That’s what the Hurricanes and Lock Monsters are wondering. Will it be the crafty center with burgeoning
offensive potential or the player who is so far an NHL bust after two
tries? A player who held so much
promise, Zigomanis appeared poised to migrate smoothly to the NHL a few seasons
ago but that didn’t happen. And in
2003-04 it didn’t happen, again. In his
36 NHL games played the 23-year-old only has 2 goals and 4 assists. This, after
the playmaking center had a high scoring junior career with Kingston out of the
OHL. Rutherford apparently gave up on Zigomanis this offseason, giving him an
ultimatum to sign a one-year contract for minimum money or find somewhere else
to play. After toying with the idea of playing in Europe Zigomanis did end up
signing with the ‘Canes. He’s had a
good camp and in two preseason games he scored 2 goals, one on the power
play. Given his past success in the AHL
(last season he had 52 points in 61 games), he was a strong candidate to make
the team even before camp opened, and his play was steady enough that it didn’t
hurt his chances. There may be some
sulking after-effects from his contract negotiations this summer that he has to
work through before his focus returns to playing the best hockey that he can.

 

Bayda is another player who the Hurricanes will be watching
closely. Through his three-year pro
career he has established himself as a capable two-way forward. In 2002-03 he even surprised some with his
point production while up with the ‘Canes when he had 14 points in 25 games,
but in 2003-04 he fell back some and only managed 3 goals and 3 assists in 44
NHL games, with a woeful, and team-worst -14 rating. At one point it was hoped the 23-year-old could be more than a
checking winger, possibly filling a role as a second liner, and this season he
will attempt to renew the ‘Canes faith in him so that he will see another
opportunity next time the puck drops for the NHL. In three preseason games played Bayda has one power play goal and
an assist, and is a -1.

 

Last but certainly not least is Lombardi, who had a brilliant rookie
season in the NHL in 2003-04 where he scored 16 goals and added 13 assists in
79 games, placing him at 11th in rookie scoring for the league and
seventh on the Flames. He also added a
goal and 6 assists over 13 games during the Flames’ cup run. In 2002-03 he played with Saint John and 25
goals, 46 points, in 76 games.

 

With those six almost assuredly making the squad, the final six openings
up front must be delegated to the 12 remaining forwards in camp, and several of
them also look to have a near stranglehold on a Lock Monsters job.

 

In July the Flames signed free agent Carsen Germyn and he has fared quite well with the Lock Monsters
this preseason, leading the forwards in scoring with 3 points in 3 games, his
lone goal coming on the power play.
Last season was the 22-year-old right winger’s first in the AHL and he
managed 27 points in 77 games for the Norfolk Admirals. There is a strong possibility that Germyn
will stick with the Lock Monsters for 2004-05.

 

Jim Henkel is entering his third year as a pro, and he’s already been a
member of six different AHL and ECHL teams.
Last season alone he was on the roster of four AHL teams, finally ending
up in Lowell where he found an opportunity to play, and where he responded with
good production, netting 11 goals with 13 assists in 35 games. The Hurricanes decided he was worth signing
as a free agent this summer and he has had a good preseason, earning two
assists and a +2 rating in 3 games.
With Staal, Zigomanis and Lombardi at center, only Calgary’s Dustin Johner stood between Henkel and
the final spot at center. Johner was
the second leading scorer for the WHL Seattle Thunderbirds who finished last
place in the U.S. Division and out of the playoffs in 2003-04, so Johner then
signed with the South Carolina Stingrays of the ECHL where he finished the ECHL
regular season with 2 goals and 4 assists in 4 games. He followed that up with
7 points in 7 playoff games (4 goals, 3 assists) for the Stingrays. The Flames saw enough to offer Johner a
contract this summer, but he was assigned to Las Vegas October 12th. Johner had no points and was a -1 in 2
preseason games.

 

On September 27th the Calgary Flames assigned Craig MacDonald
to the Lock Monsters, having signed him as a free agent this offseason when the
Bruins did not make a qualifying offer.
MacDonald was originally drafted by the Hartford Whalers in 1996, and so
was familiar with the Lowell Lock Monsters having played two seasons with the
club, even serving as the team’s captain in 2001-02. MacDonald is not known for his offensive ability, having
collected only 12 points in 110 NHL games played, but he has done well in the
AHL with Lowell and New Haven before that.
He has a career total of 116 points in 155 games in the league. In 2003-04 he suited up for 56 games and had
6 assists for the Florida Panthers and Boston Bruins combined, and he played 2
games for the San Antonio.

 

A veteran of 302 NHL and 245 AHL games, Colin Forbes looks like the last
strong candidate to make Lowell’s opening day lineup. His .73 AHL points per game is proof that he’s always scored well
in the league, and he’s a versatile forward who has logged time at all three
positions up front. It appears that his
career is on the downward slope and his NHL playing days might be over, but he
still has much to offer an AHL club and could possibly be valuable as a fill-in
player for the Hurricanes, so the club signed the 28-year-old as a free agent
this summer.


The Hurricanes’ Chad Larose split
time in 2003-04 between Florida and Lowell and produced well in both leagues as
a rookie. The ninth ranked prospect in
the Carolina system, Larose had an assist in two appearances this
preseason. Nonetheless, it wouldn’t be
surprising to see the promising 22-year-old begin the year in the ECHL.

 

Coming off of a strong playoffs with the WHL’s Red Deer Rebels, free
agent Justin Taylor was signed to a
three-year, three-way contract by the Flames this summer. In 19 playoff games in the 2004 playoffs he
led the Rebels in scoring, tallying 16 points (6 goals, 10 assists) playing
alongside fellow Lock Monster Cam Ward.
In three games this preseason Taylor was held pointless. If not for his belonging to Calgary it is
likely he would start the season in the ECHL with Las Vegas, but the numbers
might work in his favor depending on how many spots of the 10 available for
Calgary will be utilized.

 

Winger Steve Saviano stands only 5’7, but that didn’t keep him from
being named the Hockey East Player of the Year (Edmonton goaltender Ty Conklin
won the same award in 2000), as well as ending up a Hobey Baker finalist in
2004. He had 47 points in 39 games for
the University of New Hampshire. Early
on in camp Saviano practiced on a line with Staal and Bayda, but he is in no way
a lock as those players are, and his two-way contract with Florida and Lowell will
likely mean he begins the season in the ECHL.

 

Gordie Dwyer enters his seventh year as a pro having had more tags on
his luggage, or miles spent on the team bus, than he’d probably care to
remember. He hasn’t played in the ECHL
since 1998-99, but the lockout creates a situation where the low end winger
offers little to the Lock Monsters when compared to their other choices. Dwyer, who spent last season with the
Hamilton Bulldogs, and two games with the Canadiens, probably signed with
Carolina as an unrestricted free agent in the hopes that it would keep him in
the AHL with one of the weaker teams in the league in 2003-04 in the event of
an NHL lockout, and it looks like that strategy might pay off for him even
though camp was filled with many forwards just as, or more capable than he
is. Dwyer did not suit up for a single
game in the preseason and that could mean that management is planning to keep
him with the Lock Monsters as an experienced role player.

 

The final forward working to make it is left winger Brantt Myhres. The 30-year-old was signed to a pro tryout
by Lowell after being out of pro hockey in 2003-04. He played in one preseason game and Dan Sullivan from the
Manchester Monarchs. Any other year the veteran of 154 NHL games might have had
a shot as an enforcer/checking line player, but it doesn’t seem likely that he
will hang on with Lowell this camp.
However, never underestimate a team’s desire to have a tough guy on
board.

 

Outlook

 

Although their goaltenders are not overly experienced, there is reason
for optimism with both Ward and Krahn having so much talent and potential. It will be one of the unfolding stories to
watch in the AHL this season. Throughout
the rest of the lineup there is a good mixture of experienced veterans and talented
youth, so much so that a few of the final cuts for the team will be very tough
decisions.

 

As long as the goaltending doesn’t falter, the Lock Monsters should fare
somewhat better than they did last season and at least make the playoffs.

 

With players such as Staal, Kobasew, Lombardi and Fast on the team they
should be an entertaining squad to watch.
And even if players such as Larose, Taylor and Saviano don’t start the
year with Lowell, fans should get at least a look at each of them over the
course of the season.

 

Copyright 2004 Hockey’s Future.
Aaron Vickers contributed to this article. Do not duplicate without
permission of the editorial staff.