Milan Lucic of the Boston Bruins could never imagine being mentioned in the same breathe as "Mr. Hockey" himself. But there he was, a teenager, establishing himself as a player to be reckoned with after registering a 'Gordie Howe hat trick' in just his fourth NHL game.
Lucic, 19, had a dust-up in the first period, dished an assist in the second and recorded the first goal of his promising career in the third to help the Bruins to an 8-6 victory over the Los Angeles Kings on Oct. 12, 2007.
The Gordie Howe special will likely be the first of many for Lucic, who literally pulls no punches when using his 6-foot-4, 220-pound frame. Still, the Vancouver native has learned to pick his spots before throwing a thunderous check or dropping the gloves.
"Fighting is a lot different in the NHL than when I played in juniors," Lucic admitted. "Obviously, the guys are a lot more experienced and punch a lot harder. I feel playing physical and with an edge has given me an identity in this League. That's what has brought me success, so far so I'm not going to abandon that style."
Lucic, however, isn't just a bully on skates. After being selected by the Bruins in the second round (50th overall) of the 2006 Entry Draft, he was named captain of the Western Hockey League's Vancouver Giants. He would lead the Giants to the 2007 Memorial Cup and was named team's Most Valuable Player, the team's Humanitarian and Service award winner and the 2007 Memorial Cup MVP after scoring seven points in five playoff games.
Bruins center Marc Savard, who carpools with Lucic to practice each day, has seen the gradual improvement in his teammate's game.
"Milan is a student of the game and he wants to learn. He has made great strides," said Savard, who scored the game-winning goal for the Eastern Conference in an 8-7 victory over the Western Conference at the 2008 All-Star Game in Atlanta. "He's a physical player and tough to play against, but also possesses a lot of offensive skill, which no one really talks about. He's coming along and I think he?ll soon be force in this league for years to come."
Growing up in Vancouver prepared Lucic for future battles on the ice.
"We lived in a pretty good neighborhood, but one where you could get yourself in trouble if you really wanted to," he said. "I was lucky enough to have a friend that wasn't looking for trouble. My brothers and friends were athletes and my parents were very strict. They would scare me into doing the right things and I believe that has been an important part in my making the right decisions in life."
In the 2005-06 season with the Giants, he scored 19 points and accumulated 149 penalty minutes in 62 games. The next season, he scored 30 goals, 38 assists and 147 penalty minutes in 70 games.
"I remember getting into 21 fights in the 2005-06 season and then leading the team in scoring (68 points) the following year," he said. "So, I was able to improve my overall game while maintaining an aggressive style."
On Aug. 2, 2007, Lucic signed an entry-level contract with the Bruins and, later that month, captained Team Canada over Russia in the 2007 Super Series.
In his rookie season, Lucic has nine fighting majors, as well as 16 points (six goals) and 59 penalty minutes in 50 games. He has gained the confidence of the coaching staff and, in fact, was promoted to the second line and second power-play unit in Boston?s final game before the All-Star break, a 4-1 victory against the Washington Capitals. He has averaged just more than 10 minutes and 14 shifts a game.
"Since being drafted, Milan has shown consistent improvement, which was highlighted by his performance in the Memorial Cup," Boston General Manager Peter Chiarelli said on the Bruins Web site. "He plays like a prototypical power forward and we are very excited to have him signed."
"Milan is a student of the game and he wants to learn. He has made great strides." - Bruins center Marc Savard
His inspiring play has also earned him comparisons to another Bruins legend -- Cam Neely.
"When I was injured during a road trip, Cam actually came on the ice with me three or four times following our pre-game skate and we worked on a few things," Lucic said. "Cam was probably one of the best power forwards of all time and he?s been very helpful."
In Neely-esque fashion, Lucic actually finished a game against the Philadelphia Flyers on Jan. 12 wearing a full face shield after suffering a broken nose and a laceration to his left nostril that required 15 stitches. The injury occurred when Flyers defenseman Jason Smith side-stepped a Lucic forecheck in the first period, sending the youngster crashing into the dasher of the boards.
"I had so much momentum, that I went face-first right into the boards and this part of my nose was all the way out here," said Lucic, pointing to the tip of his nose and then moving his index finger towards his eye. "Setting the nose back in place was definitely the most painful thing I ever experienced, but after missing half of the second period, I was ready to go in the third."
Yep, make no mistake, Lucic was born to play hockey.
Contact Mike Morreale at firstname.lastname@example.org