Lucic in better shape for stronger start

Lucic in better shape for stronger start
October 3, 2013, 1:45 am
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Milan Lucic, in a statement, expressed pride in his hometown of Vancouver.

(AP Photo)

One of the first observations Bruins coach Claude Julien made about Milan Lucic after returning from the Team Canada orientation camp spoke volumes about the left winger’s prospects for this season: “He was in great shape, and it was clear to see how hard he worked this summer.”

That was a big difference from a year ago for Lucic and the Bruins.

The B’s power forward admittedly slacked over a summer full of real life changes (got married, had his first baby and bought his first home in Boston in a whirlwind summer) while knowing a good portion of the year was going to be wiped away by the lockout. He didn’t gain a large amount of weight or look out of shape to the naked eye, but it was clear he was a far distance away from game shape when the 2013 season became a reality.

The sight of Lucic huffing and puffing, or taking a knee, in the first few post-lockout involuntary practices was a dead giveaway to how difficult the shortened season was going to be for him.

So rather unsurprisingly, Lucic wasn’t ready when the NHL season began in January. He slumped to seven goals and 27 points in 46 regular season games. The power forward hit his stride while dominating during the playoffs, and led the Bruins to their Game 7 comeback again against the Maple Leafs with a “man against boys” third period. Lucic won every battle in the final 10 minutes of that game, and showed exactly what makes him so special as a 6-foot-3, 228-pound force of offense and destruction.  

Coming off two full seasons when the 25-year-old averaged 28 goals and 62 points, the offensive downturn put Lucic in a place he doesn’t ever want to return to in an NHL career that could span another 10-15 years.

“That was the biggest thing for me -- getting the motivation to get back into the gym, so I can have a good and productive year,” said Lucic. “Nobody likes to go through what I went through last year. So I wanted to prepare myself the best way I could so it wouldn’t happen again.

“Who likes having media, fans, coaches and management – and I’m sure some teammates – be disappointed at you? Nobody likes to disappoint anybody, and that really helped with my motivation as.”

So what Lucic did was get back to basics with his workout this summer?

He spent much of the offseason in Vancouver working out with Vancouver Giants strength and conditioning guru Ian Gallagher, along with fellow Giants alums Brendan Gallagher and Calgary Flames forward Lance Bouma. Lucic had to work feverishly to catch up to the other NHL guys in their regimented off-season workouts after he’d played so deep into the summer with the Stanley Cup Final rolling into deep June.

Still, that ended up being a positive despite the uphill battle.

“I’ve got to give them credit. I had a lot of motivation to catch up to them because I played so late into the year,” said Lucic. “We all start at the same point heading into this year. They never slowed down, so they helped me really get motivated and in shape going into this season.

“They were happy to be in the gym every day, and it’s always nice to be in the gym with happy and positive people. I really think that was the problem last summer as compared to this summer; getting motivated to get into the gym and do the work.”

Lucic has been in midseason form since hitting the ground running in camp, and looked smooth right out of the gate skating with David Krejci and Jarome Iginla. The weight room work and cardio training put in over the summer has been obvious to Bruins coaches and management, and has them excited about the prospect for such a unique blend of brawn and traditional power forward offensive skills.

“I don’t have any worries about Looch,” Julien said. “Last year when he came in he probably wasn’t in the best of shape, and it really was a struggle through the regular season. But he found his game at the right time.

“There’s no doubt he came in good shape [this year]. He’s got a good focus. He’s a guy that’s been a leader on every team that he’s been on, so there’s no doubt he wants to be a good leader for our hockey club. He’s a guy that’s going to be very good for us this year. I’m very confident about that.”

That means that a 30=goal, 60-plus point season combined with 100-plus penalty minutes as the most feared winger in the league isn’t out of the question for Lucic.

He’ll continue to impact games with the threat of his flying fists, with the well-timed body checks in the corner that soften up the opposition and the natural ability to score goals in close proximity to the net. Lucic will also make opponents pay if they fall asleep on his passing ability in the offensive zone, and that happened more than once in the preseason as he teamed with Iginla on scoring plays.

That should be a combo to watch this season, and Lucic will certainly again be a player to watch now that he’s in the kind of shape that will allow him to unleash his menacingly effective style.