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Lucic reflects on journey to the NHL

by Dhiren Mahiban
VANCOUVER -- To fully understand how far Milan Lucic has come in his hockey career, you have to go back to the night in Ladner, B.C., where Vancouver Giants General Manager Scott Bonner accidently saw the then 16-year-old strutting his stuff with the Delta Ice Hawks of the Pacific International Junior Hockey League.

The Western Hockey League executive was in attendance to scout another player when he saw Lucic fighting, and figured Lucic could be a good enforcer for his team in a couple of years.

"We had another boy on our list, David Rutherford, at the time and we were just going out to watch because (Giants majority owner) Ron Toigo was a family friend of the Rutherford's, so he sent me out to watch David play," remembers Bonner.

"At the same game, Milan was actually there playing for the Ice Hawks, and he fought, did really well … so we ended up listing him as well because we thought we had Matt Kassian on our team, but we thought Milan might be his replacement."

Lucic joined the Ice Hawks after considering quitting hockey altogether when he was passed on during the 2003 WHL Bantam Draft. After splitting time with the Ice Hawks and Coquitlam Express (BCHL) during the 2004-05 season, Lucic joined the Giants late in the season playing one regular season game and two playoff games in the WHL.

Prior to joining the Giants as a player, the now 22-year-old was paying his dues off the ice filling in as the team's mascot for a night.

"He had come to the game as most local boys do and they ask if they can get extra tickets," Bonner recalled. "He had phoned at the time and asked if he could get some tickets, when he got there (Giants VP of Business Development) Dale Saip was in a pinch and needed someone to help him out. Milan being a nice kid couldn't say no did it for half a period."

Lucic laughs about the story now.

"I remember that particular game … me and my buddy were at the game," he said. "Then two months later, I was playing with the team in the playoffs versus Kelowna that year."

During Lucic's first full season with the Giants, 2005-06, his uncle, and former Vancouver Canuck, Dan Kesa, was an assistant coach with the WHL club. Bonner remembers Kesa developing a plan for his nephew.

"His uncle gave him directives for who to set the tone with," said Bonner. "Milan was real physical, fought a lot that first season so that he could establish a reputation so that the next year he'd be able to play a little more.

"I think when you look at his plan, he followed it perfectly: he went to the 2006 Memorial Cup, found out who the toughest guys were in Moncton, fought them all. The next year he came back, he didn't have to have as many fights, but put up 30 goals, had a great Memorial Cup tournament."

Following the 2006 Memorial Cup, the Boston Bruins used their second-round pick (No. 50) to select Lucic at the NHL Entry Draft, which ironically, was held in Vancouver.

The next season, Lucic picked up 30 goals, 68 points in 72 regular season games with the Giants to go along with his 147 penalty minutes. He added 19 points in 22 playoff games and was named the 2007 Memorial Cup MVP.

He was named the team's captain heading into the 2007-08 WHL season, but never made it back from the Bruins training camp -- making Boston's line up as a 19-year-old.

Lucic says he still draws on the Memorial Cup experience today while playing in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

"It's such a hard trophy to win and it's such a hard battle to go through. Doing what we did there in Vancouver in going to the finals twice, the Memorial Cup tournament twice, and obviously the second one went our way," Lucic said. "You learned a lot about how to win and what it takes to win. Even though it is only the junior level, it's not the NHL level, but still you learn a lot about what needs to be done to win. You can't overlook how Don Hay prepared us for things like that."

The East Vancouver native, who grew playing his minor hockey next door to the Pacific Coliseum where the Canucks played for a number of years, was a Canucks fan growing up and fondly remembers the 1994 run to the Stanley Cup Final made by Vancouver.

The fact that it's taken he Canucks 17-years to get back to this point puts a lot into perspective for Lucic.

"There's a really good chance this won't happen again and you see guys around the room like Zdeno Chara, Shane Hnidy -- guys like that -- and it's their first trip to the Stanley Cup Final," he said. "Never mind the situation for myself getting to play in my home town.

"I'm fortunate enough to be a Boston Bruin, and when I first came here there was a lot that was happening, we were in a rebuilding process and it's cool to be a part of this organization and see what we've done here."

The only thing that may be more difficult for the B.C. native is fulfilling all the ticket requests he has for the Stanley Cup Final games in Vancouver.

"It's definitely difficult," he said, laughing. "It's really, really difficult. It's not like it's an easy ticket to get, and it's not a cheap ticket to get. Obviously get tickets for my immediate family, and whatever extra I can get, I can get."
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