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Local boy Lucic looking to make Olympic squad

by Dan Rosen
CALGARY -- Milan Lucic was invited to Canada's Olympic orientation camp because of his formidable blend of physicality, feistiness and flair. He believes it's exactly what the Canadians will need in Vancouver, too.

"I can bring a lot of energy," Lucic said. "Obviously the crowd is going to be on our side and if you can get them going with a big hit that works to our advantage. Also, you have to be good on the forecheck because with smaller ice they'll be able to clog up the neutral zone a bit more. Getting on the forecheck and regaining the puck works to my favor."

It's unlikely that if the Games were going to be somewhere in Europe that Lucic would be here because he is, as associate coach Ken Hitchcock said, "built for a smaller ice surface." Some in Hockey Canada's circles feel he could be the perfect fourth liner.

"He gets around the ice better than most big guys and, at the end of the day, you can also feel his hockey sense," Hitchcock added. "He can play the 200-foot game that Babs (coach Mike Babcock) wants to play."

If Lucic changes his game even in the slightest, his average chance of making the Canadian Olympic team will vanish altogether. Don't expect that to happen because the opportunity to play in these particular Olympics means more to Lucic than he can accurately put into words.

He's a Vancouver boy, born and trained in the city that is hosting the 2010 Games. He played junior hockey and won a Memorial Cup with the Vancouver Giants. His only international experience came two summers ago in the Canada-Russia Super Series and the final game was played at GM Place.

"Not only playing in an Olympics, but in my home town in an Olympics -- that's got to be a dream come true for anybody in any sport," Lucic said. "It's all gone well for me there and this would just top the list among accomplishments that can happen in Vancouver."

Lucic has only 69 points in 149 NHL games and was 12th on the Bruins in ice time last season at 14:56 per game, making him the most intriguing long shot in camp this week. He's battled the odds for years and won because he is, in a word, rare.

Not only wasn't he good enough to get drafted in the WHL when he was 15 -- he nearly quit the sport -- but he wasn't even good enough to play Junior A hockey in B.C. that year. He was ordered to play for the Junior B squad. Shortly after that, he was diagnosed with Scheuermann's disease, a self limiting skeletal disorder that explains the odd curvature in his back by his neck and shoulders that causes Lucic to hunch over.

As one would expect, Lucic fought back.

He earned a spot on that Junior A team and then with the Vancouver Giants in 2005. He put up 19 points and accumulated 149 penalty minutes in his WHL rookie season and was selected 50th overall by the Bruins in the 2006 Entry Draft.

His big year was 2007, when he helped the Giants win the Memorial Cup and Canada go 7-0-1 in the Super Series with the "C" over the maple leaf on his sweater. He made the Bruins' final roster out of training camp and quickly became a cult hero in Boston because his style reminded fans of the old days, first of Terry O'Reilly and then Cam Neely.

"I have always been able to adjust real easily," Lucic said. "When I went into the WHL I didn't have much time to adjust as a rookie and I did that pretty well. I jumped to the NHL at 19 and as a 19-year-old you don't know what to expect. It's a whole new level and you're just overwhelmed by everything, but I was able to adjust to that pretty quickly."

Lucic has been able to keep up this week while skating on a line with Vinny Lecavalier and Jeff Carter this week. It's proof enough that he belongs here.

In a way it's been hard for him to avoid doling out the kind of punishment we have all become used to over the past two years, but he knows dropping the gloves and putting guys through the glass (a la Mike Van Ryn) won't get him anywhere this week.

"He gets around the ice better than most big guys and, at the end of the day, you can also feel his hockey sense. He can play the 200-foot game that Babs (coach Mike Babcock) wants to play." -- Team Canada associate coach Ken Hitchcock on Milan Lucic

"You can't do too much of that, but you have to go out there and play your game," Lucic said.

He's been concentrating on staying on his wall, making the smart and simple passes, limiting turnovers and keeping up with the pace in the transition game. He does all that with the Bruins, but with a take-no-prisoners attitude that got him invited to this camp.

And, as he thinks about Vancouver more and more, Lucic truly believes his brand of intimidation and energy is exactly what the Canadians are going to need in Vancouver.

"If you look back at that Memorial Cup, the first period in the finals I went out and had a shift where I hit three guys and had a fight," Lucic said. "That kind of calmed me down, got the team going and the fans going. We just came in waves after that.

"When you talk about what I can bring, I hope they realize that."

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