BUFFALO — Though the game of hockey can sometimes make it difficult to keep emotions in check, the fact that there is so much at stake — and the fact that emotions do, at times, run so high — is also what makes the game exhilarating.
“It’s what makes it great to be an athlete and a hockey player, is to play in an atmosphere like that and in a rivalry like that,” said Bruins forward Milan Lucic on Saturday morning following the team’s pregame skate at the First Niagara Center.
Lucic, of course, was referring to the Bruins-Canadiens rivalry, and specifically to the Bell Centre and its always-spirited fans.
On Thursday night, with just under two minutes remaining in Boston’s eventual 6-4 loss to Montreal, Lucic was whistled for a boarding Alexei Emelin, a call that he took exception to. As he entered the penalty box, Lucic made a gesture toward the fans, for which he fined $5,000 on Friday.
The gesture — and its aftermath — have filled Lucic with remorse.
“I don’t want to get into details of everything, but just obviously not proud of what I did there, and just want to apologize to our organization for embarrassing the Bruins organization,” Lucic said on Saturday, speaking with the media for the first time since the incident. “[I] also want to apologize to our fans and also apologize to the Montreal Canadiens organization and to the Canadiens fans. I know they can get under your skin sometimes, but they are great fans, so just like I said, apologies for my actions, and I regret what I did.”
Bruins Head Coach Claude Julien sympathized with Lucic’s reaction: Lucic knew that the penalty likely eliminated his team’s final chance to tie the game, and he didn’t want to be the player to put his team in that position.
“I think the penalty was probably a real tough call that maybe we don’t really agree on, and at that point, there’s a minute something, a minute 20 or 23, left in the game. We’re about to pull our goaltender, and he sees the importance of what that penalty represents, and he’s upset, and I can get that,” Julien said. “Sometimes, it’s the emotions of players. I think we all know where he crossed a line, though, on that, and he knows it, too.”
Still, Julien acknowledged that Lucic needs to find a better way to remain in control of his emotions.
“So the thing is with Milan — it’s hopefully having the ability to control those emotions to the point that it doesn’t hurt the game, hurt the fans and hurt our hockey club,” Julien said. “So that’s what he needs to work on. But like I said, I like him as a person. He’s a great person away from the game, where the emotions get the better of him, and he’s a great teammate. He’s a player you want on your team.”
Lucic is particularly remorseful because he said his penalty, and his reaction to it, took away from the fact that the Bruins — and he personally — put forth such a strong effort for the first 58 minutes of that game. For the first time this season, the B’s were able to score more than two goals, and Lucic notched the 300th point of his career, tallying two assists on the night.
But afterward, nobody was talking about any of that.
“It took away from the way our team played, and that competitive level we were able to raise in our game,” Lucic said. “That’s why I said [the penalty] was kind of a selfish act. It takes away from all the positives out of that game. So in saying all of this, that’s why you try not to focus on that too much and kind of focus on keeping it rolling from how I played on a personal standpoint.”
It has been a bit of a slow start for the Bruins this season, who have compiled a 2-4 record out of the gates. Though there were certainly some uncharacteristic defensive lapses during the game against the Habs, there were plenty of positives to take away, and with Thursday’s incident behind him, Lucic is choosing to focus on those.
“I think we did a really good job of keeping our cool all the way until the end of the game, so like I said, it’s unfortunate that my actions took away from all the things that we did — keeping our cool and just playing a good game, a competitive game,” he said. “Obviously there’s a lot of things in the D zone that we need to get better [at], and not allow as many goals as we did, but scoring four goals at the Bell Centre and all that type of stuff…
“For 58 minutes and 20 seconds, we were able to keep our cool and play the game that we wanted to play. So I think for us, the focus should be on that, more than anything else, and not worry about the distraction part so we can try to bring that part of our game to Buffalo here tonight.”
Most of all, Lucic said he hopes that this is the last time he will have to answer for an incident like this.
“I just got to do a better job of controlling my emotions,” he said. “Hopefully this will be the last time that we’re talking about controlling my emotions not letting them get out of control — so another lesson learned.”