Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Milan Lucic ... he's a King and enjoying every minute of it

By Larry Wigge

He's notoriously a live wire.

Milan Lucic has had 26 goals in 96 playoff games while playing for the Boston Bruins over his eight seasons in the NHL. He's won a Stanley Cup and a Memorial Cup while playing for the Vancouver Giants of the Western Hockey League.

"We were East-enders, the East Side of Vancouver," Lucic said with the smile. "We’re the rough, tough type. It’s a place where you battle to keep your lunch at school.

"The Serbians have a pack mentality. We watch each other's back. When you talk about family with us, you might be talking about 100 people."

You watch the 6-3, 228-pound giant very closely. He's scored 30 goals once and more than 20 another two times. Lucic was selected 50th overall in the 2006 Entry Draft by Boston because ...

"I'm a Gemini, so I got that split personality where you got that short fuse," Lucic laughed. "I think the intimidating factor is still a big part of the game. I'm just going to continue doing what I do. I play with that mean streak. I'm not coming here to change the character of the team. I'm just coming here to add to it."

He was traded by Boston to the Los Angeles Kings for goaltending prospect Martin Jones, Colin Miller and a second-round draft choice in June -- the Bruins tying to free some salary-cap space the $6 million to Lucic.

Threading a pass from the left wing boards, Lucic fed Anze Kopitar with the brilliant pass at 9:54 of 2nd period of a that Kopitar turned into a backhanded score against St. Louis goaltender Brian Elliott in a 2-1 shootout loss against the Blues January 9.

Milan had 11 goals and 13 assists in the first 41 games, including four game-winning goals.

"He's an intimidating guy," said Marian Gaborik, another linemate of Lucic. "Every defenseman in the league knows that when he's coming down the ice, 100 miles an hour, he's going to do something with the puck. That's going to add a different dynamic to our team and to our line."

But with Milan Lucic ... well, anything's possible.

On swing through Western Canada, there were more and more Los Angeles No. 17 jerseys in the crowd at Edmonton, Vancouver and then Calgary. And there was an occasional LUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUCIC raining down from the crowds -- still ... nine years into his NHL career.

"I was a little nervous in each city. My legs felt like they were in quicksand at home in Vancouver," he still says. "But when I'd look up in the stands and see the odd No. 17 and hear some of the fans cheer for me.

Lucic's smile widened after each game as he paused to gather his emotions, saying "Well, it caught me by surpise. But it also made me feel at home."

Lucic isn't the most fluid skater. Neither is he the most naturally talented athlete on the ice. But ...

It's the personality and workmanlike attitude that endears Lucic to everyone he meets. Milan's dad, Dobro, is a longshoreman in Vancouver who immigrated to North America from his native Serbia when he was 27. His mom, Snezana, came to Vancouver when her parents moved from Serbia when she was just two.

"My dad was a soccer guy (who did recently), but he saw that hockey was a big sport in Canada so he said it was OK for me to play. Besides ... "

Lucic chuckled to himself before completing his thought, "My uncle played in the NHL. So, if it was good for Dan, it was good for my dad."

The Dan in question is former journeyman defenseman Dan Kesa, who played a total of 139 games with Vancouver, Dallas, Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay.

In one brief question and answer session, Lucic answered my break-the-ice questions. Hockey genes, workmanlike parents to drive a prospective young hockey player. But he didn't answer the one about the obstacle he had to overcome to make it to the NHL.

"I've never been what you'd call a natural," Lucic laughed. "I'll never forget being passed over in the bantam draft. And then, I was cut by the Coquitlam Jr. B team five years ago."

When the Vancouver Giants saw him playing pickup hockey in a Vancouver rink, they put him on their protected list and sent him back to Coquitlam, where he worked on his skating and shooting and, well, everything.

"Is that it?" I wondered, hoping for something more.

He said, "Have you seen me skate? Well, I don't exactly have the best form. That ..."

Here's where the rise from a real obstacle comes in. "When I was 15, my mom noticed I couldn't straighten up. My back, it was crooked. Doctors did some tests and told me I had something called Scheuermann's disease. They tell me it's a condition that, while painless, causes the upper back to curve."

Milan's bubbly personality is what this story is all about. He's a natural, even if he doesn't think so. A natural in the way he treats people.

Lucic also became an accomplished saxophonist whose school band traveled to China.

But, back to hockey ...

"It did take a little time to remind myself, "Hey, you're not a Boston Bruin anymore,' " he said, "Not an Original Six franchise and bring it back where greats like Bobby Orr played.

"Everything that happened is in the past and you have to move on. I was in one place for eight years, but Claude Julien was my for eight years, too. The system and everything is tattooed in your brain. So that has been a bit of an adjustment, but I have been getting better day by day."

Lucic know the dates where Boston is the opposition. They're imprinted of his mind.

"February," he said. "We don’t play (the Bruins) till February. We're in Boston February 9, and then Boston is here March 19."

Milan Lucic is one of those guys who you root for.

"It's not like I'm coming here trying to change the culture of the team," Lucic said. "That's what makes it perfect in some people's eyes.

"I'm not a cheap (salary) cap hit. That's why I didn’t expect it. But whether I'm here one year or 10 years, I'm buying in emotionally. I can't play without emotion anyway."

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