A familiar face returns to the Tampa Bay blue line for the 2007-08 season as defenseman Brad Lukowich dons a Lightning sweater once again. After winning the Stanley Cup with the Lightning in 2004, Lukowich played for the New York Islanders and the New Jersey Devils before returning to the Tampa Bay area. Lukowich recorded a career-high 19 points with the Lightning in 2003-04 and is thrilled at the prospect of being an offensive contributor. TBL.com correspondent Erin Chenderlin talked with Lukowich about his return to Tampa, his new baby girl and his musical ventures with Lock-Out Entertainment.
TBL.com: Having won a Stanley Cup with Tampa Bay in 2004, you have a lot of history with this team. How does it feel to be back? Did you ever think you’d be in a Lightning uniform again?
Brad Lukowich: I’d always hoped so. When I left, I think everyone was just trying to get a job at the time, after the lockout. It was basically just trying to find the best job and the longest contract. Leaving wasn’t easy. My wife and I had a lot of friends in Tampa; we had a lot of history. But it was a good experience for us to go and play up in those cities (New York Islanders, New Jersey). We met a lot of new people and had a great opportunity and a good run in New Jersey as well. When my wife saw that Tampa Bay and New Jersey had made the same offer, her eyes welled up and she was just so excited. I just knew - that pretty much tells it right there. And my feelings were the same. We were both just really excited to come back.
TBL.com: New Jersey, who you were with last season, has a very different style of play than Tampa Bay, relying less on their defenders to score. How does the Lightning’s style fit into your game?
BL: I’ve played both systems, and to be honest, there isn’t a huge difference defensively; it’s the offensive part of the defense. Defensively it’s very similar: The Tampa Bay coaches don’t want us to take chances, to give up odd-number rushes. They want us to be in passing lanes and shooting lanes and rely on the goalie to make the one stop and we clear the front of the net, and New Jersey was very similar to that. Offensively, though, it was basically score on the power play or bury your one opportunity, and bore the other team by playing so defensively. We did not take chances in the offensive zone. But Tampa Bay? I love their system. It’s a system I’ve played in and was successful. I think going to New Jersey really made me a better defensive defenseman, and now I’m going to Tampa Bay to work on my offensive game and bring that up. New Jersey gave me the opportunity to be the defenseman that I’ve wanted to be since I was 4 years old, but as an offensive guy, I never really got the opportunity there. In Tampa, the system is more offensive and they give a green light to the defenseman to jump up, which basically gives more responsibility to your forwards to cover you up so you don’t give up those offensive chances, and I know that going in. It’s a familiar situation, and I’ve never gone somewhere and come back to a team. Everything is so familiar; the area, even the moving situation has been pleasant, and I don’t think I’ve ever said that before. It’s been great. The playing part is going to be that much easier of an adjustment just because I know the physical demands and the mental demands of playing under Torts and with Jay in the office. TBL.com: Is there a certain Tampa Bay defender you’d like to be paired with? Anyone whose style you think would fit yours?
BL: I’ll play with anybody. In New Jersey, I played a lot more on the right side. Not really sure why, but I played right side, and I played a little on the left as well. I really don’t care - just put me on the ice, I’ll go out and play with anybody. I saw some really great guys in the playoffs last year. Danny Boyle, to me, is still the most underrated guy in the NHL as an offensive defenseman. I can’t believe that guy wasn’t an All-Star last year, it blows my mind. He’s the guy that, when playing against him in the playoffs, we had a circle around him like, do not let this guy heat up, because when he does, their whole team heats up. He’s definitely a guy that I would like to play with, just to learn how to play as offensively as him. He’s so good with the puck. Physical-wise, Shane O’Brien, I love that guy! He rubs every opponent the wrong way, and he’s nuts. It doesn’t matter who you put me with…I’ll play with anybody and it’ll be fun. TBL.com: You played against Tampa Bay in the first round of the playoffs last year with New Jersey, and you’re now going to play the season opener against the Devils…what do you think that will feel like?
BL: Playing against Tampa Bay was tough, all those emotions come back. You miss all those guys. It was a tough battle, especially playing against those guys in that kind of a circumstance. As far as opening night, I’m getting kind of used to playing against old teammates. It’ll be an emotional game, but it would be an emotional game anyway because I’ll be back in Tampa. I’ll be fine; I’m old now. I’m not 20-years-old anymore, so it’s just another city to me.
TBL.com: You had some other exciting happenings during the playoffs last year, as your wife, Cara, gave birth to a child. Tell me about that experience.
BL: Yeah, that was an interesting time. We were in Tampa and I went to bed at 11 p.m. after Game 3 and for some reason I turned my phone off because I had talked to my wife earlier and she said that we would go in and induce labor once I got back from Tampa. I got the call the next morning around 8 a.m., I had just turned my phone back on, and they called and told me to get going. It was a mad dash to the airport, and I found the first flight out. I got home about two hours after Marley was born. I was late, but my mom and dad were there for me, and they stood in just fine. It was a good bonding experience for them. It was crazy - I was home for about four or five hours, then jumped back on a plane to Tampa and played Game 4 that night. It was a crazy, crazy time, but it was a lot of fun. To me, I think it helped out not being nervous about playing against Tampa, so basically I was just running on adrenaline. I wasn’t playing against faces or names; I just went out there and did my job. I owe Marley, Marley Grace, a lot of help for getting me through that first round against an old team.
TBL.com: So it seems like you’re a busy guy off the ice as well. Not only are you a parent, you’re also Vice President of Lock-Out Entertainment. Tell me about that. Does the name have anything to do with the NHL lockout?
BL: Yeah, it did start during the lockout. I was sitting around talking with my friends and the band Three Days Grace was staying with us at the time when we were in Dallas, and the guys asked me what I was going to do when I was done with hockey. I said I kind of wanted to be in the music industry, and they said with all my ideas and contacts, I should be in management. And right then, we were born. My friend Jason is the president, he was working for Three Days Grace at the time. We have a band called Neverset, out of Dallas, and we just signed a deal for a national tour in October and November. Our CD is available on iTunes, and you can see the band and Lock-Out Entertainment both on MySpace.com. We’re writing a new record right now, but we do have a record out right now called Behind Every Door. It’s done pretty well, and we had a No. 1 song in the only market we put it to radio. The song was ahead of bands like Nickelback and Hinder, even. It was No. 1 for all genres, so we were pretty happy with that. It opened a lot of doors for us. This tour coming up is our biggest one, and one of our shows is in St. Petersburg, at Jannus Landing. So that’s the band that we’re doing now, Neverset, and they’re doing really well. It shouldn’t be too much longer before we can get a record deal for them, hopefully.
TBL.com: As vice president, what are you in charge of with Lock-Out Entertainment? What are some of your responsibilities?
BL: Jason, the president, runs our company. He lives for this. He knows the knowledge of the business inside and out. He tells me what to do, or the band tells me what to do, and I go do it. I’m the in-between guy between the band and the management and with the management and the sponsors. I do a lot of the publicity and marketing, things like that. I like answering personal mail from our MySpace page and our Web sites. We get a lot of letters, so we do it the best that we can. It’s a way for me to stay in contact with people and they get to see me doing other things other than just being a hockey player.
TBL.com: You have many connections with bands such as Disturbed, Nickelback and Hinder. Nickelback even thanked you personally on their album notes. How did you come to have such as strong presence in the musical realm?
BL: Growing up, music was always an interest of mine, and now I’m kind of going the other way with it. I don’t golf - while everyone else goes golfing for four or five hours, I’m usually sitting in my office listening to bands on the Internet that people have never heard of.
The very first person I met was actually through Richard Matvichuk, Craig Ludwig and Derian Hatcher (his former Dallas Stars teammates). We were hanging out when I was 20 years old and they introduced me to this band, Pantera. I was a fan, and we all went and hung out with them. We became friends, and about a week later, Sevendust was in town, and we went and hung out with them, too. It was guys from Pantera, guys from Sevendust and guys from the Dallas Stars. They were fans of ours, the Stars, too, so they enjoyed hanging out with us as well. You get together and the times are pretty fun and you get a reputation for being a fun guy to hang out with, and you get more and more opportunities to meet people. Everyone seems to know somebody.
It’s been an honor to be able to meet with some of these bands that have thanked me. I’m a huge fan of them, too, and being in the industry, I’m such a music fan that just having the opportunity to hang out with these guys is great. It’s an honor to be able to call them buddies or friends.
TBL.com: So was music always a big part of your life?
BL: Oh yeah. Growing up I was a band geek. I’ve played instruments since I was 10 years old. I was in honor band and all that growing up, and I was a dork. I played hockey and I played music and one day the band teacher came over to the house and told me that I was pretty good but I needed to focus on one or the other. I needed to be either a hockey player or a musician because I needed to start dedicating my time to one or the other. My decision was made in about five seconds. I thought, ‘I can be a hockey player now and be a musician later.’ And that’s the direction that everything has gone in. It’s been a lot of fun.
TBL.com: Do you hope to continue in the music business after your days in the NHL?
BL: Yeah, definitely, but I have other interests as well. I have a bar up in Canada that I help out with occasionally, but no too much because I’m hardly ever there. I do have a restaurant opening in Dallas, called Luke’s Sports Grill. It’s basically an extension of the music life and the athletic world. It’s just somewhere for bands and athletes and everyone to come and hang out, get some food and just enjoy themselves. I’d like to have a restaurant where I can help bands out when they’re traveling and, at the same time, have a fun atmosphere for everyone to come in. That’s the goal of that restaurant. We are hoping to open mid-September or October. We threw a lot of names around, and I didn’t really want to call it after myself, but everyone said that it was everything that I wanted to do so it should be mine. I kind of got talked in to naming it after myself, but I like it. If this one gets up and running, maybe we can put one up in Tampa, next to Dave Andreychuk’s. (laughs)
TBL.com: Do you see Tampa Bay as a place where you could stay for a while, and possibly even finish your career?
BL: Well, we did buy a house there. Other than Dallas, we haven’t bought a house in another city since I’ve been playing. We love it in Tampa, we really do. It hurt us when we left and we’re ecstatic to be back. We closed on the house early and are just waiting on paperwork so we can move. Do I see myself there? Maybe, we’ll see. We got a three-year deal, hopefully we can extend it out and we’ll be fine.