When a team’s sniper rips the puck into the top of the net, everyone notices. When the goaltender flashes a stacked pad save to foil a breakaway, everyone notices. When the 6-foot-3, 230-pound defenseman levels an opponent, everyone notices.
But when the penalty killers keep a dangerous power play off the board, the casual fan (and media member) misses it. Or when the checking line holds the opponents’ top line scoreless, the casual fan misses it.
Which is why until recently Matt Lombardi’s name hasn’t dominated fan conversations. (Or, for that matter, headlines.)
The senior, Boston College’s assistant captain, came into the year having scored four points in both his freshman and sophomore seasons, followed by 11 points as a junior. A month ago, he headed into the playoffs with two goals and seven assists.
Playing on the Eagles’ checking line with Matt Price and Barry Almeida, Lombardi’s accomplishments were primarily in the defensive end. Within that context, his accomplishments were considerable. BC finished as Hockey East’s top defensive and top penalty-killing team despite breaking in four freshmen defensemen.
Impressive. But no headlines.
Then everything changed. In the Hockey East quarterfinals against Massachusetts, he assisted on a key Almeida goal in the first game and scored the third-period game-winner in the second.
A fluke? Ask the Maine Black Bears, who Lombardi torched for a hat trick in the championship game, including the overtime goal that gave Boston College its record ninth Hockey East title and third in Lombardi’s four years.
“It’s always nice to have personal success,” Lombardi says. “It’s magnified when your team wins a trophy, but it’s just being in the right spot at the right time. I didn’t get too excited about scoring. I scored the first one and just tried to focus on the shift coming up.
“Getting the winner in overtime was a great feeling, being able to share that with the guys. Personal success is nice, but when we got that trophy that completely overwhelmed any other feelings.”
The offensive contributions didn’t end there. In the opening round of the NCAA tournament, Lombardi scored a pivotal shorthanded goal in Boston College’s 3-1 win over Alaska.
“Matt has been a really significant defensive player during his tenure at BC,” Eagles coach Jerry York says. “He plays against the top players on other teams, kills penalties, [and] plays on the five-versus-six at the end of the game.
“But all of a sudden he has become an offensive weapon. He had the big goal against UMass to send us to the TD Garden and then of course the hat trick against Maine which propelled us to win our league title. Then he scored a shorthanded goal the other night. He has really worked on his offensive skills and he has been a remarkable player to coach here.”
Like most “overnight successes,” there’s been nothing overnight about Lombardi’s sudden success in the offensive zone.
“For his four years here, he has probably been the hardest worker on our team,” fellow assistant captain and roommate Ben Smith says. “In the weight room and working on skills, he has developed his offensive side this year.
“He has been a great teammate for me and for the rest of the team. He is definitely a part of why this team is doing so well.”
Although the puck is suddenly making beelines from Lombardi’s stick to the back of the net, the Massachusetts native won’t be changing his approach in the Frozen Four. The goals are nice, awfully nice, and he’ll definitely take them, but his focus remains on the defensive end.
“Going into any game, my mind’s not really set on scoring goals, it’s to fill my role and do my job,” he says. “Kill penalties. Play physical. Shut down the other team’s top line.
“When Matt, Barry, and I work hard, get the puck deep and get the cycle going, that’s when we find success. We work well together. We’re always on the same page.
“As of late I guess we’ve produced a little more offensively than we have all year but we’ll just stick to our game plan and worry about the process.”
And if Lombardi has seen the last of the personal limelight, that’s OK with him. His teammates can get the headlines as long as the Eagles win.
“That’s the special thing about our team,” he says. “A lot of guys are happy to do whatever they can to contribute. That’s part of the makeup that we have. It’s in the BC program.
“You just do what you are asked. You just want to do it at your best ability. Sometimes it’s not the most glorified thing, it’s not in the limelight, but it’s rewarding when your team does well.”