Lombardi up to speed

Matthew Lombardi, at the Dome yesterday, has received a top-six forward role with the Coyotes and...

Matthew Lombardi, at the Dome yesterday, has received a top-six forward role with the Coyotes and responded with four goals and 12 points this season. (JIM WELLS/SUN MEDIA)

RANDY SPORTAK, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:02 AM ET

Expect to see a little extra spring in Matthew Lombardi's step tonight when he faces the Calgary Flames.

With his speed, that could mean some moments that will pull fans out of their seats.

You could sense the excitement in him when the Phoenix Coyotes left the ice following yesterday's practice.

"It's fun to be back -- I had a great time here," Lombardi said after a brisk session at the Saddledome. "It's weird being back and not playing with them, and I'm sure (today) I'll be a little more nervous, but that's normal.

"It's the team that gave me an opportunity to play in the NHL and the first team I played for, so being back here is something special."

Lombardi will face the Flames for the first time since being traded to the Desert Dogs at last season's trade deadline, a deal which saw the Flames receive Olli Jokinen and a third-round pick in exchange for Lombardi, Brandon Prust and a first-rounder.

For Lombardi, 27, it meant the regular top-six role he'd hoped for the past few seasons with the Flames.

"I'm having fun here -- it's a great group of guys, and I was welcomed to the team right away," said the speedy centre. "I think we've got a good team, a good mix. I've got a great opportunity, and I'm having fun with it."

Lombardi, with four goals and eight assists this season, has a bigger role on the powerplay, as well as on the penalty kill, to go with his regular duties.

"He's found a good niche on our team," said Coyotes head coach Dave Tippett. "He plays in all situations for us. He's getting an opportunity -- maybe not the lead -- but he's done well in all of them.

"He's been a solid player for us."

When Lombardi was traded, it was almost like a relief. Not that he wanted to leave after nearly seven seasons with the Flames organization, but he was constantly the subject of trade rumours.

Eventually, all the smoke meant there was fire.

"I was never one to follow much what was going on in the media and the trade rumours, but the way things were going, I wasn't surprised. I'm not going to lie," Lombardi said. "It was tough to leave a place you'd been a long time and met some good people and made great friends.

"But we were welcomed to Phoenix, and it didn't take long for me to be happy."

In 19 games with the Coyotes after the trade last season, he collected five goals and 11 assists.

"I got there and was given a great opportunity," Lombardi said. "I was playing a lot with Scottie Upshall and Petr Prucha, and we just gelled right away and had a great end of the season together."

Then came the chaos of the off-season for Coyotes staff and players.

The team's bankruptcy proceedings and all the upheaval which led to the NHL taking over the club and the departure of Wayne Gretzky meant plenty of questions. But Lombardi said the team has excelled amidst it. Their record -- 13-10-1 -- would attest to that.

"It was kinda crazy, but there's not much you can do. You were hoping everything would get resolved, but it was a pretty complicated thing," Lombardi added.

"I think the guys have dealt with it really well. We came to camp without a coach, but Dave came in, and it worked really well off the bat."

RANDY.SPORTAK@SUNMEDIA.CA


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