December 2nd, 2002


Bare Cupboard Out East

No Answers in Saint John

AP Photo

Saint John Struggles: Dave Lowry and the Flames farm club are struggling just like their parent team.
Marc Ciampa

Dave Lowry is not the answer.

For that matter, neither is Oleg Saprykin, Ladislav Kohn, Robert Dome or even Matthew Lombardi.

As the Calgary Flamesí season spirals out of control, the most common rallying cry aside from "fire the coach!" has been for the team to call up a number of offensive sparkplugs from the American Hockey League.

Statistically, some players are putting up outstanding numbers. Oleg Saprykin has 12 goals and 21 points in 21 games. Matthew Lombardi has 10 goals and 20 points in 21 games Ė and is a shoo-in to be named AHLís Rookie of the Month for November. After a slow start, Robert Dome now has 16 points in 16 games. But make no mistake about it, Saint John is a very ordinary American Hockey League club.

With just one win in their last eight games, the Baby Flamesí woes mirror their parent club. The difference is Saint John is not getting blown away on a regular basis. The biggest bright spot on the team has been the play of Lombardi. He has blazing speed, amazing puck control and a powerful shot. In each of the games against Manitoba last weekend, Lombardi was by far the best player on the ice for either team both consecutive nights. He had two goals and three points each night including several highlight-reel goals.

The line combinations Saint John seemed to be going with were Saprykin, Dome and Jason Morgan as the top unit with Lombardi, Kohn and Christie on the second line.

Lombardi would best be kept in Saint John for the season where he can develop his game, however. Heís been given a tremendous opportunity with the Baby Flames to play in all situations, including as the lone forward defending a 5-on-3.

The most logical call-up, Oleg Saprykin, was summoned from Saint John Saturday night and will be in the teamís lineup against Detroit tonight. But it will be a stretch to expect him to spark the struggling offence. His style of game and the way he plays hasnít changed a bit since he broke in with Calgary in 1999-2000. He still seems to have trouble staying on his skates and is pushed away from the front of the net too easily. Saprykin started off the season exceptionally well, with three goals and 10 points in six games along with a +3 rating but in November, heís struggled somewhat with only 11 points Ė albeit with nine goals Ė and a Ė5 rating. He has only one goal and two points in the teamís last six games. But he still plays a very dangerous game and is strong positionally. If he can find some open ice, he can easily create a scoring opportunity. Heís the only visiting player to date that the Manitoba Moose had to devise a strategy to shut down.

Another name frequently mentioned in call-ups is Levente Szuper, who is now also back with the parent club. Szuper is a very solid AHL goaltender but itís difficult to see how his unorthodox style of play will translate at the NHL level. He may be worth giving a shot, due to the fact that very few NHLers have a book on Szuper right now so he could start off his NHL career on a tear. Remember the teamís eight-game winless streak several years back? It took a relative unknown Freddie Brathwaite to step in and singlehandedly bring the team back into playoff contention. That would be a lot to ask from the Hungarian but maybe if given the chance he could come through.

As for Dave Lowry, he was a healthy scratch for the two games in Manitoba last weekend and was back in the press box Saturday night against Wilkes-Barre so itís difficult to see how a player not deemed good enough to be among the top six veteran in Saint John could help Calgary. A veteran player by AHL definition is one who has played 260 or more NHL, AHL, IHL or European Elite League games. A player who has played in 450 or more AHL games is exempt from this rule. The Saint John Flames currently carry eight players who qualify as a veteran: Lowry, Dome, Kohn, Mike Martin, Martin Sonnenberg, Rick Mrozik, Ryan Christie and Jason Morgan. Only six of these players can dress on any given night.

Another player who should not, and likely wonít, ever see the light of day in Calgary is Darcy Verot. Despite his high penalty minute total (currently 103 minutes in 19 games) he is not a tough guy in the Craig Berube mold. Think Darcy Tucker, except without the scoring touch. In the first game against the Moose, Verot got in a fight with Tyler Bouck and when he started to lose the fight he resorted to eye-gouging the Moose player. Verot was suspended two games for his actions.

With Saprykin and Szuper currently joining the Calgary Flames on the Road Trip To Oblivion, expectations are high that theyíll be able to make a difference in the teamís woes. Itís unfortunate that they are simply going from one struggling team to another but hopefully both players take advantage of the opportunity theyíve been given and play their best.


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