Bruins' Milan Lucic Returns to Home of Junior Glory
VANCOUVER -- Milan Lucic returned to the scene of the grime Wednesday.
The Boston Bruins winger was serenaded in the Pacific Coliseum, the rink where he spent many days working and sweating his way to the NHL with the Vancouver Giants of the junior WHL. The Giants held a news conference in advance of Milan Lucic Night on Friday, when they will place him on their Ring of Honor and hand out 500 bobblehead dolls bearing his likeness.
Boston's practice in his old junior barn, due to a schedule conflict at Rogers Arena, evoked memories of his final game with the Giants in May 2007 when they won the Memorial Cup, symbolic of North American major junior supremacy. Lucic also won a WHL crown in his two seasons as a Giant.
"It was especially nice today, being able to practice here in the Coliseum," said Lucic, a 22-year-old Vancouver native. "Growing up down the street, that's where I always wanted to play, because when I was a kid the Canucks were always playing here.
"When I started playing, it was right next door at the Agrodome. Obviously, the two years that I had here with the Giants, winning championships both years, it was somewhere where I was able to develop my game. It got me to where I am now."
Lucic is enjoying rare extra time off in his hometown as the Bruins enjoy a longer-than-usual break on the road before Saturday's tilt with the Canucks. The homecoming became a happier one after he scored two goals in a win over the Flames in Calgary on Tuesday.
He has netted a career-high 26 points and his 42 points match the career best he managed two seasons ago -- before injuries (mainly an ankle problem) limited him to just 20 points in 50 games in 2009-10.
"It was definitely a learning curve last year," he said. "You take being healthy for granted until you go through injuries like I did last year. It was tough. It seemed like everything that could go wrong last year went wrong. That's what gave me that extra motivation to regain my reputation going into this year. It made me work extra hard."
Bruins coach Claude Julien said Lucic has responded well this season after taking a long time to find his game in 2009-10 because of the injuries.
"He's obviously getting his confidence and the one thing that makes him a good player is when he comes out and plays the way he knows he can," said Julien. "The physical part of his game has to be there for him to be effective, and it's got to be there on a consistent basis. Whenever it hasn't been there, he hasn't had the success that he should.
"He's understanding that more and more. With experience and being able to mature through this league, you become a more consistent player. He's doing a good job at that."
Wednesday's event recalled Lucic's adversity as a teen. He was bypassed in the WHL's draft of bantam-age players and played junior B as a 17-year-old. He produced only nine goals in his first season with the Giants and was noticed mostly for his fighting ability.
Still, the Bruins chose him in the second round of the 2006 NHL Draft, which was held in Vancouver, and he has emerged as an elite power forward while helping Boston become a legitimate Stanley Cup contender.
"Looking at the situations, Boston was kind of in the redeveloping stage and they needed some jam in their lineup," he said. "It was perfect for me. That's why I couldn't be happier that I ended up with the Boston Bruins. Ever since I got with them in the 07-08 season, everything's just kind (of) gone up and forward from there."
Lucic gives much of the credit for his rise to stardom to the Giants' coaches and management. He especially appreciates the lessons from Giants head coach Don Hay, who guided the Flames and Phoenix Coyotes briefly and is one of only three WHL bench bosses with 500 career wins. And, Lucic still works out in the summer with Giants strength and conditioning coach Ian Gallagher, whose off-ice training sessions have improved his skating skills.
"They helped me take that step up ... They were willing to work with me, especially Don (Hay)," said Lucic. "He always finds a way to get the best out of his players, and he's a guy that keeps saying that work ethic can take you a long way. He's got the saying: will over skill. If you have that will and you're willing to put the time in and the work in, it will get you to where you want to go.
"I always took that to heart."
And what does Lucic think of the bobblehead doll?
"The nose needs a little work," he said. "Definitely, you can tell from the side profile that it doesn't really have the bump that I'm kind of famous for, the Serbian nose that I get from my family. But it's pretty cool."
NOTE: Boston has brought in former Bruin Shane Hnidy, 35, for a tryout. In the preseason, he suffered a rotator cuff injury while on a tryout with Phoenix. Since then, he has been recuperating in Winnipeg. "It was definitely an easy transition to come into this room," said Hnidy. He played for Minnesota last season after playing a season and a half with the Bruins from 2007 to 2009.