Milan Lucic finally caught his breath this past summer and was able to re-charge after what seemed like an endless streak of hockey during the last two years, leading to his successful debut with the Boston Bruins.
"It was like non-stop for sure and while it was a great experience, it was good to finally take a small break and take it all in," Lucic said.
At this time last year, Lucic was beginning a dream rookie season. He quickly become a fan favorite and was compared to Cam Neely and Terry O'Reilly because of his size, work ethic and toughness. That's pretty heady company for a rookie.
Lucic tallied 27 points, never backed down from a fight, and won the Bruins' Seventh Player Award, an honor voted on by fans and given to the player who "goes above and beyond expectations." In the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Lucic made his presence felt with a two-goal effort and intimidating physical performance in the team's seven-game, first-round loss to the Canadiens.
Now factor in that the 19-year-old Lucic already had been through a very successful 2007, winning the Memorial Cup and tournament MVP the previous spring and then captaining Team Canada to its win at the Summit Series against Russia during the summer.
Yes, Lucic needed a break
When he arrived at training camp last week, Lucic said it was a completely different feeling than last year when he was feeling as if he was already in mid-season form in September.
"I had been playing straight through the spring and summer basically so I just kept going," Lucic said. "I think that sort of helped me block out the whole idea of being at an NHL camp. I also had attended the rookie camp that summer, so I was familiar with the coaches and what they expected of us. So I figured I'd just do my best and enjoy the ride."
Despite the workload, Lucic made sure he enjoyed the experience. Despite the disappointment of the playoff loss to the Canadiens, Lucic savored every second.
"You just play better when you're having fun," Lucic said. "When you're not having fun, that usually means you've lost your edge or you're letting frustration get to you. I tried my best through the season to not let that happen and I think it helped a lot.
"I mean c'mon, that was like any kid's dream," Lucic said. "To play in the NHL and then to be part of a series like that, Montreal-Boston, two Original 6 rivals. The history and the fans, the atmosphere in both Montreal and Boston was just amazing. That Game 6, what a game that was! That was probably the most exciting game I've ever played in and it was cool being a part of that."
The Game 6 that Lucic alluded to, a 5-4 Bruins win that saw three lead changes, is viewed by many in the Boston media and among Boston fans as a game that may have helped put the Bruins back on the map in Boston sports.
"Everyone saw what Game 6 was like," Lucic said. "It was electric, and that was one of the most fun games for me to ever (take) part in. The fans were so into that game and the series as well. It was an amazing atmosphere. The whole series was great that way. It was nuts in Montreal, but the Boston fans stepped up too. We need to build off that and keep the fans interested."
Speaking of the Boston fans, there are plenty of No. 17 Lucic jerseys around the stands at training camp thus far. Always known to appreciate the grittier, hard-nosed player, Lucic made a great first impression with three fights in his first 11 games. Couple that with his solid stats, and he has become another face for a team trying to recapture the glory and spirit of the O'Reilly Bruins of the late '70s and the days of Neely and Ray Bourque in the '80s and early '90s.
"Obviously it's an honor to be put in that category, with players like that who pretty much set the identity of the Boston Bruins and the fact that the fans see that in me is great," Lucic said. "But as a player, I also want to get better and be me as well."
"I enjoy going out there and battling against a guy like that," Komisarek said after Game 7. "I don't think either of us are going to be backing down from each other in the future and it only makes for another element in this rivalry."
His battles with Komisarek and the playoff experience as a whole, has Lucic longing for another shot at the Cup and striving to help his team get there again.
"It was incredible like I said, everything just goes up to another level, the fans, everything, and I want to get back there," he said.