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Living the dream as a rookie

by Adam Schwartz

Milan Lucic, the Boston Bruins 2nd round choice in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, may get a taste of postseason play if the Bruins can remain in the playoff picture.      Milan Lucic highlights
All hockey players dream of playing in the NHL. Once that goal is reached, the dream becomes making it to the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

A few lucky ones see playoff action in their rookie season. Some of these first-timers even go on to become stars in the spring tournament. Montreal Canadiens goalie Patrick Roy led the Habs to the 1986 Stanley Cup and won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoffs' Most Valuable Player in his rookie season.

If Canadiens fans have their way, rookie Carey Price will duplicate Roy’s playoff performance. Price was thrust into the starting role after the trade deadline when Montreal GM Bob Gainey unexpectedly dealt veteran goalie Cristobal Huet to the Washington Capitals.

Not all rookies occupy such a spotlight, though. First-year player Milan Lucic was a surprise to make the Bruins out of training camp. Now he is an energy player on a team clawing to stay in the playoff picture. The idea that a postseason berth is in his grasp has Lucic filled with anticipation.

Lucic, a large-bodied power forward, reminds Bruins fans of a less-skilled version of Cam Neely. He is a physical presence with a noted playoff pedigree at the junior level. He won the Stafford Smythe Memorial Trophy last season as the most valuable player of the Memorial Cup-winning Vancouver Giants of the Western Hockey League, an award Scott Niedermayer, Shane Doan and Brad Richards have won, too.

Lucic knows players with a sandpaper quality are needed when the pressure is at its highest – like in the playoffs. He says the postseason gives credence to the old maxim: When the going gets tough, the tough get going.

“That term gets thrown around a lot,” Lucic said. “ ‘When the going gets tough, the tough get going’ is a true statement when it comes to the playoffs.”

Lucic’s Boston teammate, Marc Savard, has played more than 650 games in 10 NHL seasons but still is waiting the opportunity to play meaningful hockey in April. While the Bruins are far from assured of a playoff spot, Savard is determined to do his part to make the postseason a reality.
Minnesota Wild rookie center James Sheppard is hoping 2008 will mark his first foray into the postseason. The Wild are involved in a four-team dogfight for supremacy in the Northwest Division, a battle that likely will go down to the season’s final day.

Sheppard, a depth forward for coach Jacques Lemaire, is averaging about 10 minutes of ice time per game, but he expects a tough battle come playoff time. He grew up on the lore of the playoffs and the sacrifices it takes to win.

“I think it was Wayne Gretzky that lost in the Stanley Cup Final once and he saw the other team,” Sheppard said. “They were battered, bruised and they could barely walk, but Gretzky’s team was fine. That was something I remember because that’s what it takes to win and I think hockey players respect that.

“They know what you have to go through and they are going to do the same thing to you. The team aspect shows how much we want to win and I think we have respect for other teams because they are in the same position that we are.”

Vancouver Canucks left wing Mason Raymond is a different breed of player than Sheppard and Lucic, but he harbors the same dreams.

Raymond is a speedy rookie with smooth hands who has been a depth scorer with the Canucks. He currently is out with a sprained MCL, but he hopes to be back for the playoffs, providing the Canucks can hold onto a spot.

Raymond grew up in Calgary, where the Flames are one of the Canucks' most hated rivals. And he grew up watching another Vancouver rival, Joe Sakic of the Colorado Avalanche, as he tried to figure out what he needed to do to become an elite player in his own right.

“I always enjoyed watching Colorado and Joe Sakic,” Raymond said. “Watching him hoist that Cup over his head and the way he led his team to victory was something I always remember growing up.”

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