By Joe Haggerty
VANCOUVER Traveling with the Bruins affords you some pretty unique looks into the lives of Bostons most celebrated hockey players, and some of the extraordinary experiences theyre lucky to have during the season.
The victory lap taken by David Krejci while Liberec crowd chanted his name in a Czech Republic rink was as emotional as youll ever see the young center get.
Meeting Zdeno Charas father and family in the historic Old TownSquare in Prague also immediately comes to mind.
Some moments are more noteworthy than others during the NHL schedule as the group of traveling hockey players dart across North America and Europe in some instances to fill out the 82-game regular season schedule and playoffs.
One of those special stitches in time arrived this week for Milan Lucic, who was home in Vancouver to play the Canucks for only the second time in his NHL career.
Very different than the last one-day trip through Vancouver two years ago by Lucic and the Bruins, this time around the Bs power forward enjoyed four days in the picturesque capital of British Columbia and his hometown -- surrounded by snow-capped mountains and the waters of the Pacific Ocean.
Lucic was notified some time ago he would be honored by his former junior hockey team the Vancouver Giants with an induction into their ring of honour where he joined fellow Giants players Gilbert Brule, Andrej Meszaros, Mark Fistric and Brett Festerling."This is the place where Looch turned a boy into a man," said Mark Recchi. "I think it's a pretty special place for him."
The Giants are where then Bruins Scouting Director Scott Bradley discovered the big, strong raw-boned hockey player skating on the WHL teams fourth line.
Lucic wouldnt blow anybody away in a single viewing, but Bostons currentDirector of Player Personnel got to watch Lucic on a regular basis, and openly wondered what the youngster could do if he struck the balance between throwing punches and snapping one-timers.
Thats happened as a pro, and Bradley was on hand in Vancouver along with other members of the Bruins front office to watch Lucic bask in a little hometown glory this week.
Hes been bubbly for the last couple of days, and it couldnt happen to a nicer kid, said Bradley of Lucic. We had targeted him all along to draft, but hes exceeded every expectation that we had. I really like the fact that he just keeps improving all the time. In his draft year, every night when I came to see him play, you saw improvement.
People say he only had nine goals with the Giants, but he was fighting and playing physical and he scored nine goals while skating on the fourth line. If you got your crystal ball out and looked at it, you could see some of the future success. That force of will, that work ethic, that determination of his, thats exactly what were always looking for as scouts. Its a cool story. Lucic is a scouts dream because these guys dont come along all that often.
Lucics entire family was on hand to watch him drop the ceremonial first puck in a Friday night game between the Vancouver Giants and Chilliwack Bruins, and observe the unveiling of his banner after a highlight reel video package of greatest moments in his junior career including the MVP Shift where he decimated three different opponents with bone-rattling hits before throwing down in a fight that set the tone for Vancouvers Memorial Cup-winning contest.
There were great touches on the night including a little 6-year-old kid skating with both teams during warm-ups while donning Lucics No. 27 Giants jersey, and the 22-year-old Lucic really seemed to understand how fortunate that kind of a moment was for him.
Growing up as a kid this is the kind of stuff that you dream of. Youre always shooting for the stars when youre a kid, right? Im living my dream now because playing in the NHL is something I always dreamed of, said Lucic. Not only that, Im coming back home where everybody is really excited to see me.
My old junior team has sold 12,000 tickets for the game during Milan Lucic Night. It definitely makes you feel good about yourself and it really just reminds you of where you came from. It makes me really proud to call myself a Vancouverite.
Its not often somebody gets feted in their hometown at such a young age with friends and family surrounding them, but then again Lucic isnt the kind of player that comes around all that often.
Perhaps the one individual most apt to know exactly whats going through Lucics mind on a special Vancouver evening is Bs President Cam Neely, who grew up in the same area, played the same manner of game and understands exactly what it feels like to be the conquering son coming home to Vancouver.
Its always special because you dont get to come home very often and play in front of family and friends, said Neely. You get a little bit more amped, and to be honored by his junior team is something I know is really special to him and his family. There are a lot of people in the building cheering him on Friday night with the Giants, but also coming up to the Canucks game on Saturday.
Of course Lucic should be a big factor against the Western Conference-leading Canucks with his team-leading 26 goals that have him on pace for close to a 60-point season and have seen him perhaps finally figuring out the balance between physically setting a tone and becoming a scoring threat each time hes on the ice. There are points when Lucics physical game has tapered off and hes dealt with a nagging shoulder problem at points during the season, but the power forward shifted into beast mode in Bostons win Tuesday night in Calgary and that makes a huge difference for Boston when Lucic can ramp it up to that level.
Just to see his skating improve, his shot improve. Hes a big physical presence and thats given him a lot of room, time and space for himself along with the rest of his linemates, said Neely. He has that kind of an impact when hes playing physical that it also has on our team. I think hes figuring it out.
It takes a couple of years to figure out how you have to play and what you have to do when youre that type of player. Its showing this year on the ice with how hes doing, and whats he doing. Its not just on the scoresheet. When hes playing physical for our team, it makes a big difference.
Getting honored in his hometown for past glory as a junior hockey player shows exactly how far Lucic has come, and just how much hes figured out in his short, successful time with the Bruins.