SUN Hockey Pool

Lombardi springs free

RANDY SPORTAK -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 1:24 PM ET

Two months of watching games from the pressbox is over for Matthew Lombardi.

That's only part of the good news.

Best of all, no more popcorn during games.

"I was sick of it a while ago. It was a long haul," said the Flames centre.

Out since suffering a high-ankle sprain Oct. 17, Lombardi is slated to return for tonight's clash with the Boston Bruins (8 p.m., FAN 960).

"I'm itching to get in there. I'm really excited, been excited for a while now, so I can't wait," he said.

Having missed 24 games, Lombardi skated on a line in yesterday's practice with Chuck Kobasew and Tony Amonte.

How much he plays against the Bruins, though, remains to be seen, said GM/head coach Darryl Sutter.

"We'll wait and see," Sutter said.

"Lombo hasn't played many games this year and I'll work him in.

"I'll give him some special team time and see how he goes."

To make room for Lombardi on the roster, forward Craig MacDonald was sent down to AHL Omaha yesterday.

The move completes the revolving door that saw Lombardi skate in one game for the Knights this week, in which he collected one goal, one assist and even scored in a shootout.

"It was good for me. I got to play lots down there, felt great," he said.

"It was a good opportunity for me to really test it out, get the feel for the game, get the rust out and get ready for (tonight)."

Sutter was impressed with Lombardi's performance surrounding that stint for two reasons.

"I love the idea that after I asked him to go, that he did go," Sutter explained.

"When you assign guys on conditioning, it's the player's decision and a lot of times I think it's the agent's decision.

"It was a wise decision on his part, with the break it made sense.

"I'm glad he went down and worked hard. I talked to the coaches and they said it was refreshing to have him in their lineup."

The Flames squad Lombardi returns to is one of the best in the league, a far cry from the struggling team he was part of before the injury while collecting a trio of assists in six outings.

"Every game we're finding a way to win," he said. "We're doing the things we do best, using our speed, playing really solid defence and every guy is chipping in.

"It's been a good team effort and we've got to keep going the same way."

Certainly he has the ability to make the Flames stronger, possessing great speed and a shot that helped him score 16 goals in his rookie season.

Sutter has openly stated while his top two offensive centres -- Daymond Langkow and Steve Reinprecht -- struggled, he'd like to see how Lombardi plays with Jarome Iginla in a more open game. That may not happen tonight but is a possibility down the road.

"I know there were guys more popular and better interviews and all that stuff but Matthew Lombardi was our leading goal scorer (among centres) last time we had a regular season and we got almost the whole year out of him, which we couldn't get out of any of our other centremen," Sutter said.

"I think the four games to Christmas, we can use for him as a building block for after."

Long-term thinking would be good for Lombardi's psyche.

Having lost almost all of the 2004-05 season due to a concussion suffered in the playoff run of '04, and then missing this much action, he's seen his share of bad luck.

"At least with this injury I had a bit of a timeline, so it was a little easier to cope with," he said.

"But it's part of the game, you've just got to roll with it. I'm good now, and that's in the past."


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