With his already famously broken nose and dark, Mediterranean skin, Milan Lucic
looks nothing like Terry O'Reilly or Cam Neely
. Yet he is well on his way to being revered like those two Boston Bruins
For the Bruins' passionate core of working-class fans, it matters little that Lucic looks nothing like O'Reilly, a freckled facsimile of an altar boy when he arrived in Boston before turning into the "Tasmanian Devil" and the poster boy of what it meant to be a "Big, Bad Bruin," or Neely, a prototypical Western Canadian farm boy who used his unwillingness to yield an inch of ice as the jumping-off point of a journey to the Hockey Hall of Fame.
O'Reilly and then Neely were the faces of the take-no-quarter Bruins, their praises sung lustily by the Boston Garden faithful. Today, the Bruins play in the more spacious and modern TD Garden, and the cheers for Lucic are beginning to reach the same timbre once reserved for the wrecking-ball performances of O'Reilly and Neely.
Throughout last season, the melodious chants of Lucic's last name would rain down virtually every time Lucic made a hit (seemingly every shift) or scored a goal (more than anyone expected). Those chants, as expected, grew louder and more passionate throughout Boston's 11-game run in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Not surprisingly, all that attention was music to Lucic's ears.
"Every player will tell you that when you are getting appreciated by the fans, it’s a great feeling," Lucic told NHL.com. "It gives you that extra gear; that extra boost out on the ice.
"The Boston fans have been real great to me since I've been there. I couldn't be happier where I have ended up and have such great fans on our side like we have in Boston."
But Lucic also knows much of his popularity comes from the sweat and blood of the rugged forwards that have come before him in Boston, an impressive group headed by the aforementioned O'Reilly and Neely.
"I think those guys you just mentioned are the reason I have the relationship with the fans that I do, because they are the guys that created the identity of the Bruins as the 'Big, Bad Bruins' and (of) sticking up for one another, sticking up for yourself and not taking crap from anyone," Lucic told NHL.com. "Like I said, those guys are the ones that created that identity and it just so happens that I fit into that identity."
From his first day in Boston, Lucic has fit into that blue-collar, truculent identity so revered in the city. He reported to training camp before the 2007-08 season without much thought given to him making the team right out of junior hockey.
But from his first day at training camp, Lucic played the game with the ferocity that was the hallmark of his legendary junior career. He hit everything that moved in the intrasquad scrimmages and then physically dominated rookie games before staying ahead of the curve during exhibition games against other NHL squads.
"Lucic is a man in a boy's body," Boston defenseman Zdeno Chara
told NHL.com. "He has never played like he is intimidated."
As a result, Lucic saw 77 games his rookie year, scoring 8 goals and 25 points and becoming a cult sensation. This past year, he scored 17 goals and finished with 42 points. Just as importantly to some Bruins fans, he had 138 penalty minutes and finished with 262 hits, a number that hurts just to contemplate, never mind execute.
Even scarier, Lucic got better -- and stronger -- as the season went along. He might have been at his peak in the first round of the playoffs, driving the Montreal Canadiens
to distraction -- and penalty taking -- with his zeal to play the body after every turn and crash the net with something far closer to glee than dread.
How good was Lucic this past season?
"Not only does he play a style of hockey that is exciting to watch, I expect him to keep developing. The sky is the limit for him. He hasn't hit his potential yet."
-- Tim Thomas on Milan Lucic
Good enough that Steve Yzerman
made sure he was invited to Canada's Olympic Orientation Camp this summer -- meaning Lucic, a Vancouver native, is on the short list of candidates to represent the host country, heck, the host city, when the Olympics come calling on Vancouver in February.
How good can he be going forward? Consider these words of Boston goalie Tim Thomas
, who has watched every second of Lucic's maturation.
"Not only does he play a style of hockey that is exciting to watch, I expect him to keep developing," Thomas told NHL.com. "The sky is the limit for him. He hasn't hit his potential yet."
That's a scary thought. But Lucic tries not to look that far ahead.
He just wants to think about the next shift, the next hit, the next blood-and-guts moment that will add to his burgeoning legend in Boston. Those are the personal things upon which he concentrates. As for the Bruins, his goal is to help the team exceed last season's accomplishments.
That means he wants to help Boston once again battle for the Presidents' Trophy. More important, he would like to see Boston get past the second round of the playoffs and put the disappointing seven-game upset at the hands of the Carolina Hurricanes
"I think we learned a lot last year about what can happen in the playoffs," Lucic said. "We have to take what we learned and apply it to this year and have a good start and get the ball rolling there.
"The margin for error is so little, that you have to make sure you are making the most of your opportunities when you are getting them. You need to bear down on your scoring chances and also never underestimate an opponent or take them for granted."