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Digging Deep: The Adam Lowry Story of Redemption

This piece is currently featured in InFlight Magazine, the official game program of the Winnipeg Jets

by Ryan Dittrick @ryandittrick / WinnipegJets.com

'How would you evaluate your year so far?'

If presented with the same question at this time last year, Adam Lowry's would-be, one-word answer says more about how things are now than the way they were back then.

"Disappointing," he said.

"But I'm better now because of it."

Video: VAN@WPG: Lowry roofs scorching PPG over Miller

It was December 2015 when, after recording only one goal and eight points in the first 31 games of the season, he was re-assigned to the Jets' affiliate, the Manitoba Moose of the American Hockey League.

As important as it was playing a bigger role with increased minutes in all situations, Lowry learned that a stint in the minors wasn't a punishment of any kind, and that it was, in fact, an organizational decision made to benefit his career both now and in the future.

More than a year later, and things appear to have come full circle.

"It's tough on them for a day or two, the world comes to an end, but I just don't think it's that big of deal," said Head Coach Paul Maurice. "He handled it right, he came back strong and I think he felt he had something to prove coming into this year.

"He needed to take the job and make it his, and he's done that."

While his efforts on the defensive side of the puck have made a real difference for the Jets this year, Lowry has taken a major step forward offensively as well. The soon-to-be 24-year-old has a career high in goals (14) and points (26), easily surpassing the 23 (11G, 12A) he put up in his rookie year, and doing so from under a predominantly defensive task list that includes more than two-and-a-half minutes per game of shorthanded ice time, leading all forwards in that category.

Everything - right down to the number of minor penalties he's taken - has improved significantly from when he first burst on the scene three years ago.

It all starts in his own end.

More than 60 percent of the time, Lowry's five-on-five shifts begin in the defensive zone. Despite this and the fact that he faces some of the toughest head-to-head matchups, he's consistently been a 50 percent Corsi player, meaning that half of the shots taken when he's on the ice have been directed where they belong, at the other team's net.

In contrast, his defensive zone start percentage was well below 50 in 2014-15, when fellow centres Jim Slater, Mark Scheifele and Mathieu Perreault were getting the bulk of those assignments.

In only a two-year span, he's gone from a promising rookie with some offensive upside to a solid, if not excellent shutdown centre with 20-goal potential.

But that doesn't mean the transition has been easy or pain free, and it certainly didn't happen overnight. As with anything, especially at this level, it's been the result of a lot of practice and hard work, along with the blood, sweat, tears and the trial-by-fire experiences that go along with it.

With a young team, there's a lot of on-the-job training going on, and Lowry is no exception.

Turn the clock back to Nov. 1 when the Jets entertained one of the top teams in the National Hockey League, the Washington Capitals, at MTS Centre. Lowry scored the tying goal with 2:25 left in the third period, barging his way to the net and using a nifty move in tight to stuff it home on the forehand.

Then, it all came undone.

Washington's Jay Beagle beat Lowry on an offensive-zone draw, got the puck back to John Carlson at the point, who then found the forward in front for the winning goal after the Jets tallied twice in a 3:31 span to tie things up late in the third period.

It was emotional finish for the youngster, who had an otherwise impeccable game matching up against the Capitals' top weapons, but was instead left sullen in the dressing room afterward, answering questions about the one play that got away.

So what did the coach do? He put him right back out there in a similar situation the very next night.

And the next one.

And the one after that.

"There's going to come a time when he takes that draw in a far more important game and the experience tonight, he'll dig in a little harder," Maurice said at the time.

"He's made real good improvements in his faceoffs this year, and that's the job he's training to do."

Video: WPG@NYI: Lowry buries his own rebound in front

"It meant everything," Lowry said of his coach's comments, looking back on that game. "When your coach has that kind of trust in you, the belief in my ability, knowing that I would go out the next time and not only repeat a mistake, but improve on that skill, it just fills you with confidence. Paul's great that way. He knows when to let you play through your mistakes, and when to pull you aside and slow things down."

It sure seems to have worked.

Lowry was 47.2 percent on the dot during his rookie season, and was a full percentage point lower last year, thanks in large part to the slow start he endured before his time with the Moose. At the time of this writing, he's clipping along above 50 percent and has been for most of the year.

For a player like Lowry who finds himself in those critical defensive situations numerous times over the course of a game, his improvement in this area has not only helped the Jets win key points in the standings, but it has also lesson the load on fellow workhorses Bryan Little and Mark Scheifele as well.

And then there's the physical side.

"Look back to when we made the playoffs," Lowry began. "Our identity was that of a big, physical, punishing team. Ever since, we've kind of gotten away from that and it makes sense. We got younger, we injected more skill into the lineup, and I think we first needed to establish a different identity - speed and skill - before inserting more of that intense physical play we've been known for in the past.

"We want to be a team that's hard to play against, and I want to be one of the leaders in that area. You don't necessarily have to punish guys with every check, but if you get in there and finish on guys, it makes them want to get rid of the puck quicker and force them into a decision they might not want to make. It's really important for me to lead the charge, and anytime you can get a hit to change the momentum, it's a big swing for the bench."

Lowry made it a goal of his to help bring that from the outset of the campaign. He has, but as the team has "rediscovered" and ramped up those qualities over the course of the year he, too, has taken it to a whole new level, mowing over his opponents with that burly 6-foot-5, 210-pound frame.

The Calgary native points to one game, in particular, that helped him arrive at that conclusion - Jan. 7 at Buffalo.

Patrik Laine was run over by Sabres defenceman Jake McCabe with a clean, but devastating open-ice hit that caused the 18-year-old to miss eight games with a concussion. The Jets were understandably angry, but they were still in the game, and vigilante justice at that point wouldn't have accomplished anything.

Instead, Lowry went out and laid a couple of hard, equally clean body checks on two of the Sabres' young guns, Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart.

"Anytime someone takes a run at one of your superstars, especially a younger guy, you want to make sure that their young guys and their skill players are going to feel it, too, and possibly deter them from running around a little bit," he said. "It's not necessarily about fighting guys. If you can get them good and square in the shoulder or chest, it's going to make a difference."

Mathieu Perreault said it best recently after Lowry had a game-high 10 hits against the Crosby-led Pittsburgh Penguins: "When (Adam) Lowry and (Shawn) Matthias get on the puck, teams get nervous out there. I mean…I would if a team was running me like that."

That's all the validation he needs, knowing that when he's on the ice - whether he has the puck or not - he can be a difference-maker for his team, and in this league.

No. 17 has wasted little time becoming one here in Winnipeg.

- Ryan Dittrick, WinnipegJets.com

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