With the Flames flying out after a game Tuesday night in Montreal to Boston, where they finish a four-game road trip on Thursday, it would have been “too tough” to make a side trip to Victoriaville, a more than two-hour drive east of Montreal.
Instead, his father Peter will stand in for him when the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League club raises the No. 10 he wore during his four seasons at the Gilbert Perreault Amphitheatre from 1998-99 to 2001-02.
The 24-year-old from Hudson, Que., near Montreal, taped a message of thanks to his junior team that will be shown during the ceremony.
“It’s pretty special,” said Lombardi, who wears No. 18 in Calgary, where veteran Tony Amonte has No. 10. “I’d have liked to be able to get down there, but the schedule doesn’t work out.
“It’s disappointing, but my dad will be there to represent me.”
Just as well, because with the Flames struggling to score, it may not be the best time for side trips on personal matters.
Lombardi and linemates Alex Tanguay and Chuck Kobasew produced only two goals in the club’s first five games this season.
And when asked to assess his second-line centre, coach Jim Playfair didn’t mask the fact that he wants more from the quick-footed Lombardi.
“Lombo’s got to be a hard working, two-way player to be successful,” he said. “I think he’s really lucky to have a guy like Tanguay on his line and he’s got to utilize him a lot more.
“And he’s got to be a hard guy to play against, by driving to the puck and going hard to the net.”
Asked if he’s done that this season, Playfair said: “Sporadically.”
Lombardi was coming off a two-point game Saturday night in Toronto in which he scored a short-handed goal and added an assist.
He started camp playing with Tanguay and star winger Jarome Iginla, but centre Daymond Langkow has been on Iginla’s line of late.
“Alex and Chuck and me have been together the last few games,” Lombardi said. “We’re trying to get a chemistry together. It’s coming. We’re getting better and we’re working for it.”
Lombardi scored 109 goals in four seasons with Victoriaville, where in his best season in 2001-02 he had 57 goals and 73 assists in 66 games.
He was drafted by the rival Edmonton Oilers 215th overall in 2000, but didn’t sign and went back into the draft in 2002, where the Flames took him 90th overall.
His is the first of four jerseys to be retired by the Tigres, who are celebrating their 20th anniversary this season.
Former NHL winger P.J. Stock’s No. 42 goes up on Nov. 12, former defenceman Yves Racine’s No. 16 goes on Jan. 25 and Lombardi’s old teammate Carl Mallette’s No. 97 is on Feb. 11.
Previously retired were the No. 29 of former NHL goaltender Stephane Fiset and No. 32 of Los Angeles Kings goalie Mathieu Garon.
“It was a great time,” Lombardi recalled of Victoriaville. “Me and a good friend, Carl Mallette, lived together for four years with the same billet family, so we’re kind of like brothers.
“It was funny. My first language was English and when I got drafted by Victoriaville, my mom was a little scared because I hadn’t finished high school and she wasn’t sure if I could do it in French. But they helped me out a lot and I ended up studying three or four years in French and going to (junior college) there.”
The Tigres won the QMJHL championship in 2001-02 and went to the Memorial Cup final, losing to the Kootenay Ice.
“I’m proud to have been able to play there and I still think that if I didn’t go to Victoriaville, I wouldn’t be where I am today,” he said. “So I owe the organization and I owe the city a lot.”
The Tigres also have banners for three players from Victoriaville who played before the QMJHL club was formed – Jean Beliveau, Gilbert Perreault and Gilles Marotte.
Curiously, the Tigres have not retired the jersey of Alexandre Daigle, who had 247 points over two seasons there and was drafted first overall by Ottawa in 1993. A team official said the honour was not only for goals and points but also for commitment to the team and the community, and left it at that.
Daigle now plays for Davos in Switzerland.