Lipsbergs back with T-Birds; Baltram released; Hickman done for season

Jan 5, 2015, 4:27 PM | Updated: 4:30 pm

In a surprising series of moves Monday afternoon, the Thunderbirds announced that Latvian import forward Roberts Lipsbergs – who spent the last two seasons with the team and was most recently with the ECHL’s Stockton Thunder – will be returning to Seattle.

General manager Russ Farwell announced that 20-year-old forward and team captain Justin Hickman will be out for the rest of the season as he will require surgery on his injured shoulder. It’s a very unfortunate turn of events for the T-Birds’ senior leader, who was in his final year of WHL eligibility.

As Lipsbergs is both 20 years old and an import player, Seattle would need to clear one of each from its current roster. The 20-year-old question answered itself with Hickman’s injury and is likely what caused Farwell to look into bringing Lipsbergs back. To clear an import spot, the T-Birds released Austrian forward Florian Baltram, who scored his first career WHL goal on New Year’s Eve. He also had four assists for a total of five points this season in 35 games.

Lipsbergs was a fan favorite in Seattle and his offensive abilities will be welcomed with open arms. In his two seasons in Seattle, he played in 132 regular-season games and scored 110 points, including 63 goals. He was also a factor in the playoffs in both of his years, scoring 16 points in 16 games.

The season-ending injury is sad news for Hickman, as he’s generally been healthy since his 16-year-old season, and has worked hard since being a second-round pick in 2009. Over his WHL career, he played in 285 games and registered 132 points and 466 penalty minutes. Hickman, who played five games with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers in the AHL last season, will still have the opportunity to earn himself a pro contract if he can return from surgery 100 percent.

Hickman and 17-year-old center Mathew Barzal were Seattle’s top two returning scoring forwards from last season, and both will have missed significant time when the 2014-2015 season has wrapped up. Barzal has yet to return from a knee injury suffered in early November that required surgery, but is expected back within the next couple of weeks.

It’s unlikely Lipsbergs will need much time to adjust, as he’s played in head coach Steve Konowalchuk’s system for two seasons. His veteran presence up front and scoring ability will help the T-Birds’ large crop of young forwards as they move forward with their careers. Watch for him to step right in on Seattle’s top line and power play and provide some of the scoring punch that Seattle has been looking for recently.

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Lipsbergs back with T-Birds; Baltram released; Hickman done for season