VANCOUVER Its fitting that Cam Neely's and Milan Lucic's dream season will end, for better or worse, in Vancouver.
It's their hometown, the place where it all began for two of the Bruins' most rugged players of the last three decades. Its also a destination they seemingly have been headed for all year.
Neely was named Bruins president before the season began. The promotion was a coronation that was years in the making and placed the beloved Hall of Fame forward in a position to truly make things happen within the Bs organization. Its no coincidence theres been a different kind of urgency and accountability since Neely grabbed the reigns last summer.
Meanwhile, Lucic rebounded from an injury-plagued 2009-10 campaign, in which he missed both a potential Canadian Olympic Team berth and the Winter Classic at Fenway Park, with his best season in the NHL, continuing to hone his game of brutality and offensive brawn. He's begun to make good on the Neely comparisons that have been made since he was drafted by the Bruins in 2006.
The setting where Lucic was drafted? The Rogers Arena home of the Vancouver Canucks, of course.
Anybody sensing a pattern here?
Both Neely and Lucic cast an overpowering presence during the four-day stop the Bruins had in Vancouver in February amidst a six-game road trip.
Lucic had his number retired by the hometown Vancouver Giants junior hockey team, where he earned MVP honors during their Memorial Cup run, and then scored the game-winning goal in the third period of a 3-1 victory over the Canucks. For many players Lucic included the solid road win in Vancouver was the first time they began firmly believing they were Stanley Cup material.
Lucic has a goal and two assists along with 12 shots on net in three career games against Vancouver, and has enjoyed success imposing his physical style on the faster, skilled Canucks. The sight of Lucic collecting rebounds and wreaking havoc in front of the Vancouver net is one that should become a familiar one in the seven-game series.
Ive always been able to thrive off playing excited and with a lot of emotion, said Lucic. I know Ive heard some guys say that when they play at home in front of a lot of their friends and family that they seem to tense up a bit. I just get excited about it and I think its the reason Im able to perform against Vancouver.
The extended stay and game-winning heroics in Vancouver was the highlight of Lucics breakout NHL campaign. He led the Bruins with 30 goals scored, and finally married his brute force and deft skills.
To be vying for a Stanley Cup against the team he rooted for as a youngster raises it to another level entirely.
Its definitely special to just be in a Stanley Cup Final is special. But to be in my hometown just makes it that much more extra special, said Lucic. I played junior hockey and won a Memorial Cup here. The Memorial Cup probably stands out the most, winning it at home in the Pacific Coliseum right next to where I started skating as a little kid. I was drafted by the Bruins here. Im definitely grateful I was selected by them. We had arguably our best win of the regular season against the Canucks. It seems like in some ways this was almost destined to happen.
I know growing up here that the Canucks have been waiting a long time to get back into the Stanley Cup Final. I know Boston fans have been waiting for the Bruins to get back in the Final. Both cities are jacked up and excited.
It's just as sweet for Neely, who actually played for the Canucks prior to getting dealt to Boston, along with a No. 1 draft choice, in 1986 for Barry Pederson.
Coming back to Vancouver, obviously got some family and friends excited about it as well, said Neely. Being a former player, growing up here . . . it's an interesting matchup. It's exciting for sure.
For Milan, its probably a little bit different being a player in that regard. But he's got tons of family and friends that are excited about this matchup. I think a lot of people were certainly hoping for Bruins versus Canucks at the start of the year. To have two teams like this meet in the finals, from Milan's perspective, I don't think he could ask for anything better.
Neely is thoroughly aware that the 25th anniversary of his trade to Boston will take place birthday on the same day, June 3, as Game 3 of the Finals. That day also happens to be Neely's 46th birthday.
Lucic thinks the best birthday gift he can give to the team president is the Stanley Cup the Bruins were never able to capture during Neely's time in uniform.
Neely says to go out there, lay everything on the line and play like theres no tomorrow, said Lucic. In the end, you want to have no regrets. I think weve heard him say it. If theres one thing he could have done while he played, it would have been to win a Stanley Cup. Here we are with the opportunity to do that, and to win it with him would be very special.
The stage has been set for both Neely and Lucic to attain their NHL dream against the perfect opponent. Now, years after Lucic began fantasizing about the Stanley Cup in his hometown of Vancouver, it's up to him and his teammates to deliver.