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SENDING A MESSAGE

Lucic stepping up to Zadorov after hit on Czarnik displayed impact he can have in games

by RYAN DITTRICK @ryandittrick / CalgaryFlames.com

There was a presence, all right. 

An earth-shattering, teeth-rattling, shake-you-to-the-core-type authority on display Thursday at the Pepsi Center. 

Milan Lucic - all 6-foot-3, 231-lbs. of him - had arrived.

As advertised.

 

Video: "That spark is lit and you're back again."

"When you play with that energy and emotion, and kind of have that spark, if gets you going," said Lucic. "It gets the team going.

"I lost a little bit of that in the last year and a half in Edmonton.

"Sometimes, that's all it takes - that one little moment.

"You get involved in a scrum and the next thing you know, that spark is lit and you're back again."

If that's what Flames fans have to look forward to this year, then by all means: Welcome back, Milan. 

Late in the second period of what was then a 3-2 game, Lucic took exception to a hit from behind on one of his brothers. With Austin Czarnik splayed out in the corner, still reeling from the effects of Nikita Zadorov's punishing - yet, curiously unpenalized - blow, the big man took matters into his own hands, popping the Colorado defender with a stiff right to the chin.

In all, he received 17 minutes in penalties - five for fighting, two for instigating, and another 10 tacked on as a misconduct. 

All of it serving as a badge of honour - a rite of passage with his new team - by winning over some new fans. 

Both those watching and, most importantly, those in the dressing room. 

"One million per cent it changed (the game)," said Matthew Tkachuk. "Immediately.

"The momentum the rest of the game completely shifted. 

"That's one of the big elements that he can bring, along with his physical play, his play around the net. ... The rest of the game, I felt like they weren't as physical or in-your-face, chippy, that stuff.

"We took over the game after that."

 

 

Tkachuk - you may have heard - has been known to draw the ire of his opponents over his three years in The Show. 

But the addition of No. 17, he says, allows for more freedom, forcing the enemy to take pause and think twice about their actions.

Tkachuk knows that better than most.

"I know I was careful when Looch was out there playing against them," he laughed. "He's one of those few guys in the NHL when you know, every single shift, when he's out there. If you're on the ice and he's out there, you know he's out there.

"That's a big skill in itself.

"He's not fun to play against. I know that playing against him for three years. He brings something that we haven't had since I've been here. 

"I think it's very, very important and what he did last game was great."

When the Flames acquired the former Cup winner back in July, they knew what they were getting. 

Both he and the now-departed James Neal needed a fresh start offensively. 

But there was a role that needed filling here among Calgary's forward corps. One that adds grit, leadership, and allows the Flames' smaller, skilled players to feel more at ease.

From the GM on down, it's a role that - despite the decrease in fighting over the years - remains a critical part of any team's culture. 

If the players feel a foot taller with Lucic on their side, then the perception is most definitely real.

"When you have a presence like him out there, it's great to have," Czarnik said. "For him to step in like he did, I appreciate that.

"All the guys appreciate that."

Lucic had the biggest smile on his face as he held court in the Flames' locker-room Friday. 

Teammates, too. 

Doing his thing, showing some anger and getting involved on the emotional side of the spectrum, is what's made him a physical force over his 12 years in the NHL. 

It fires him up. Gets him involved. 

Above all, it creates an overly contagious, healthy environment where 'team toughness' is no longer a motto without meaning.

"That's why a fresh start was good for me," he said. "It was important for me to get emotionally engaged and re-energized. 

"It doesn't matter when I was a 16-year-old to now as a 31-year-old, when I'm playing with that emotion and energy and have that smile on my face, I'm definitely more effective and am playing the way that I can.

"The hard part is when you find it, to hold it and build off it for as long as you can. 

"That's the goal now moving forward."

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