Rookie Report: Matt Lombardi

By Stephen J. Holodinsky

Rookie Report-Matt Lombardi

In these times of bigger is
better in the NHL, a smaller player getting to the show is somewhat of an
anomaly. Many have tried but only a few have succeeded. One of the latest to
throw down the gauntlet, or hockey glove as is the case, is Calgary’s Matt
Lombardi. At 5’11” and 191 pounds, he is a David among the world of Goliaths
usually measuring 6’2” and 220 pounds. Never one to let his lack of size stop
him, so far Lombardi has totaled 9 goals and 10 assists in his 42 game inaugural
campaign in the NHL.


This kind of success is
nothing new to the pivot. Playing for Victoriaville in the QMJHL he was
originally drafted in the seventh round in 2000 by the Edmonton Oilers. During
that year he totaled 18 goals and 44 points in 65 games. Oiler GM Kevin Lowe
indeed found a good one as Lombardi went on to total 28 goals and 67 points in
72 games the year after he was drafted. However, that was only the beginning so
far as the center was concerned. A year later he put up an eye-popping 57 goals
and 130 points in 66 games leading the Victoriaville Tigres to a second place
finish in the Central Division.


Alas, Lowe couldn’t sign his
prospect and Lombardi ended up going back into the draft where Calgary selected
him in the third round in 2002. With a freshly inked contract in his hand, the
center reported to St.John, New Brunswick in the AHL where he proceeded to wow
the locals to the tune of 25 goals and 46 points in 72 games. This was enough
to get him a lengthy look-see at the Flames 2003 training camp. When injuries
robbed the big club of Steven Reinprecht and played havoc on the rest of the
centers it was up to Lombardi to step in and perform right from the get go.


Flames writer Lawrence
Bailey reports that the pivot played very well out of the gate and points to an
early hat trick against Chicago as one of the flashes of brilliance the young
pivot, has displayed. That said, Bailey goes on to state that “over the last 20
games or so, the inconsistencies that have plagued his career have become more
evident.” To date “his defensive play has been a huge minus.” Although he has
shown “some chemistry with Jarome Iginla when they have played together” Coach
Darryl Sutter has been quick to take him off of the top line when he has not
been minding his own end.


Now with Reinprecht back, it
will be up to Lombardi, whom Bailey compares to “a young Cliff Ronning.” He
“needs to work on his physical play and defensive zone coverage if he’s going
to be in the Flames’ long term plans.”


All told, with a Coach like
Darryl Sutter, you can bet that those aspects of his game will improve over
time. The Flames look like they have a keeper here in the one that got away
from their northern rivals, the Edmonton Oilers.