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"Today, we had all the same faces and we all know the system, so we got right to work preparing for the playoffs," said Milan Lucic

by RYAN DITTRICK @ryandittrick / Calgaryflames.com

The first day of camp - like the first day of school - can make even make the mighty weak in the knees. 

But this was a Day 1 like no other in the game's history. 

"Usually on the first day of camp, you have a little more anxiety and stuff like that," said a jovial Milan Lucic on Monday following his turn in the afternoon slot at the Scotiabank Saddledome. 

"Typically, there's fitness testing, body fat measurements - all the stuff nobody looks forward to. Now, none of that has ever been an issue for me, but it doesn't matter how many times you've done it - you always get nervous about it.

"Remember in school, whenever you had a run a big race in gym class? 

"It's like that. Butterflies. 

"That punch in the stomach-type feeling.

"Today, we had all the same faces and we all know the system, so we got right to work preparing for the playoffs."

Lucic, of course, knows all about that. 

He's been through the grind, seen what it takes, emptied the tank and won a Cup along the way.

For a young Flames team thin on playoff experience, the big man brings a bevy of knowledge when it comes to the spring-summer dance. 

One hundred and fourteen games worth, in fact - only two-dozen fewer than the rest of his mates, combined. 

From the beginning of the season way back in September, to now nearly a calendar year later, Lucic has widely praised for his 'fit' in the dressing room. He's the ultimate teammate, a winner, and a leader eager to put his stamp on another deep run. 

So now, more than ever, the wily vet be a powerful voice inside the dressing room. 

 

 

"Really valuable. Really, really valuable," said interim head coach Geoff Ward when asked about No. 17's post-season know-how. "He's seen everything that could possibly happen. Just in terms of how he prepares for practices, how he prepares for games, how you deal with the ups and downs of a playoff series and the emotions around it, all these things are things our guys can learn from, can talk about and draw on. 

"Having a guy with a lot of playoff experience really helps. He's going to really, now, have a big, big impact on our room as we move forward here."

Naturally, winning it all with the Boston Bruins back in 2011 remains the highlight of his journey. 

But he's also endured his share of playoff disappointments, too. 

From back-to-back Game 7 heartbreaks before winning it all with the Bruins, to a controversial Second Round defeat at the hands of the Anaheim Ducks when he was a member of the Edmonton Oilers, the experiences in sum helped shape his career for the better. 

Sometimes, you have to feel pain before turning the corner and becoming a champion. 

"In Boston, we learned some hard lessons," Lucic said. "In 2009, we lost to Carolina in Game 7 and overtime. Then we lost to Philly the very next year in Game 7 after having a 3-0 lead in that game, and in that series. 

"It's a hard lesson. But it's fuel. 

"It angers you. 

"It motivates you to be better the next time.

"We had to experience that in order to achieve the ultimate goal the year after.

"Watching the season that the Flames had last year, being a heavy favourite and going out the way that they did - that's experience. I think a lot of guys learned a lot from that. A lot of our guys realized that it really means nothing if you have a great regular season when you're out in five games in the first round. You could sense that regret when I arrived in September - that there was some unfinished business that needed to be addressed."

Lucic, who ended the regular season with a one-goal, two-point effort against the Vegas Golden Knights on March 9, finished with eight tallies and 20 points in 68 games this year. 

 

 

His game truly rounded into form at the beginning of December, and as the season neared the pause, he was delivering nightly on a line with Derek Ryan and Dillon Dube. 

There were a lot of things going right with the hometown team at that point in the campaign. 

The Flames had won three of their four games in March, out-scoring their opponents 12-8 in victories over the Florida Panthers (3-0), Columbus Blue Jackets (3-2, OT) and Arizona Coyotes (3-2), and were 6-3-1 in their last 10 that included their most difficult road trip of the season.

Instead of a slowdown, the Flames were heating up at a most critical juncture. 

One could argue that wasn't the case last year. 

"We were really moving in the right direction, playing our best hockey and gearing up for the playoffs," Lucic said. "That's when you want to keep the pedal down. 

"A lot of time has passed, but we know what we have. That's what makes it different from a normal day in September.

"I think I can definitely be a leader. Sometimes it's easy to get yourself so ramped up and completely out of it, and vice-versa. Other times you need someone to ramp up the intensity and take over when things aren't going your way and you're in a lull. 

"You learn the situation of when and when isn't the right time to push those buttons.

"And that comes with experience."

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