There was excitement, but there were a lot of unknowns.
It was October 31, 2015. Ryan Lomberg was set to make his AHL debut, wearing a 32 sweater as opposed to his now-well-worn 41.
“I remember it was hot out still,” he said about his first game. “I don’t remember the game. It was a long time ago now.”
The opponent was San Diego. The Heat lost the game 3-2. Lomberg registered a shot on goal.
Where he was definitely spot on was describing how long it’s been – Lomberg will play in his 200th game with Stockton tonight, tying him with Morgan Klimchuk for most tenured Heat player of all time.
It’s been a long road for No. 41, the fan-favorite whose grit and effort are matched by the ‘pop’ he receives from Stockton Arena crowds night-in and night-out. Over that span he’s earned multiple call-ups to the Calgary Flames, playing in 11 games with the big club.
“Obviously the goal is to be in Calgary, and I want to be there more so than ever,” he said. “As the years go on and you’re more and more comfortable with where you’re at, I’m now the one showing the guys around, telling them where to go for lunch, where to live. Even the arena staff, I’ve gotten to know them as well as the fans. I definitely love being here and I’ve enjoyed my time in Stockton.”
At just 24 years of age, Lomberg isn’t the prototypical grizzled veteran, but he’s be donning the A on his jersey once again this season. It’s a sign of respect for the way he plays the game, the blue-collar approach, fiery, bring-your-lunch-pail style. The same thing that’s earned him respect in the locker room is what has brought about a tremendous amount of affinity from Heat fans.
That comes as no surprise for Stockton head coach Cail MacLean, who has watched the forward play since that 2015-16 campaign.
“Passion is something that people gravitate towards,” said MacLean. “Intensity. He shows that. When he’s at his best, he really shows that. It’s electrifying for the fans. I think you’d find that everywhere Ryan has played because passion and intensity bring people in. It was similar in other places he’s been, and it’s the same now. He’s able to bring people out of their seats.”
‘Competitive fire and blazing speed,’ as MacLean puts it, are the two hallmarks of Lomberg’s game. He was like that with the Adirondack Thunder and he remains the same now, never more true. But over the past 199 games, the game has grown and the skill set has diversified. He finished second in the AHL in shorthanded goals a year ago while posted an AHL career-high 29 points.
“Maturity-wise, going on my fifth year as a pro you learn little things every year,” said Lomberg about the evolution of his game. “On the ice, obviously having a lot of good coaches in this organization – it’s non-stop learning here. I’ve definitely grown a ton off the ice, but probably even more on the ice.”
With the nice, round number of 200 coming tonight, it’s something that rings home for the 5-9 winger and Ontario native. So, as unnatural as it might feel for the all-gas-no-brakes athlete, it was time to hit pause and reflect.
“It’s awesome,” Lomberg said. “I feel very lucky to be doing what I do. Two hundred games at 24, I obviously plan on playing a lot more. To hit a milestone like that is something I’ll be taking in and it’s special to me because at the start of my career here, things weren’t looking so great. I was in and out of the lineup. Sent down, called up, sent down again.
“To hit 200 games for the Stockton Heat is definitely something that means a lot to me.”