When the Boston Bruins paid a visit to Bridgestone Arena last Thursday, it was their first trip to Nashville in more than two years. Since the Bruins and the Predators are in different conferences, the teams do not get an opportunity to see each other very often.
Three of the participants in the St. Patrick’s night tilt had a reunion of sorts from a very successful season from back in their junior hockey days. Predator defensemen Cody Franson and Jonathon Blum
and Boston forward Milan Lucic were all members of the 2006-07 Memorial Cup winning Vancouver Giants.
The Memorial Cup is the championship of the Canadian Hockey League. The champions of the Ontario Hockey League, Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and Western Hockey League along with the team from the host city square off in a tournament each postseason to determine the best team in junior hockey.
Thursday night was the first time any of the three played against each other in a National Hockey League game. Even though Lucic has more than 200 NHL games under his belt, the game against the Predators was a special one.
“It is funny looking back at the team that we won with the Vancouver Giants, it’s actually funny that I haven’t played against too many of them in the NHL,” Lucic said. “I spent two great years there, both with Franson and Blum.”
For the two and a half hours it takes to play the game, old teammates and friendships have to take a back seat to the task at hand, no matter how much success they had together in 2006-07.
“Now a couple of years later, you get to play against each other and that is the fun of the game,” Franson said. “You have to get past those things when the puck drops.”
Winning a Memorial Cup was such a high point in Franson’s young life, he incorporated the Giants logo in a tattoo that commemorated a very successful year for the defenseman.
“Anytime you can accomplish something like that, it is going to stick with you forever,” Franson said. “With the guys that you accomplish it with, there is something you will never lose.”
The Memorial Cup was not the only piece of hardware Franson brought home that season, as he won a gold medal with Team Canada at the 2007 World Junior Championships.
Both Blum and Lucic played their first full junior season in Vancouver in 2005-06. Lucic is a Vancouver native, and the Southern Californian made a distinct first impression on him when he met Blum for the first time.
“He’s a skinny kid from California with a laid back California-type attitude,” Lucic said.” “It is tough coming out of a market like that. The Giants were obviously big on him and were willing to work with him, and obviously he showed that he deserved to be there and he was one of the best defensemen who played in that organization.”
Not only were the Giants big on Blum, the Predators were as well, making him the 23rd overall pick in the 2007 Entry Draft.
When they got on the ice against each other, the physical differences between Lucic and Blum were obvious, but even as a junior, Blum showed the same poise and high skill level that has been on display with the Predators since his late February call up from the Milwaukee Admirals of the American Hockey League.
“Looking at myself standing next to him on the ice going against him, you think I am just going to blow by this guy or outmuscle this guy,” Lucic said. “He just got better as he went on. Even at the start he was a gamer. He came and played hard. He was a big part of that team having big success, and I think he has grown a lot as a player and a person.”
Lucic and Blum were teammates for two full seasons in Vancouver. Lucic was slated to be Vancouver’s team captain in 2007-08, but he made Boston’s roster out of training camp that season and is one of the rare players who jumped from juniors to the NHL bypassing any time in the minors. The reasons for Lucic’s success are evident to Blum.
“He’s a guy I look up to,” Blum said. “He’s worked so hard his whole life to get where he is. It’s nice to see what he is doing in this league. He deserves everything he’s worked for. It’s just crazy, we played two years of junior together. We were both rookies coming into the Western Hockey League, just to see where he is at is unbelievable.”
Blum not only looks up to Lucic’s work ethic, he matches it every day of the offseason.
“I work out with him every day in the summer,” he said. “His work ethic is the best I’ve seen. He pushes me to get better. It’s good to have a guy like that working out with and that really makes a difference.”
The Bruins practiced in Nashville the day before their Thursday game with the Predators. That night, Blum and Lucic had the opportunity to go to dinner together. Now that they are both NHLers, the two spent some time discussing their different experiences getting there.
“It was cool to catch up on stories and things he has gone through and that I went through,” Blum said.
Back in juniors, Franson and Lucic were both big bodies who needed to work on their skating.
“We were in the same boat,” Lucic said. “The thing that they talked about me and him was our skating. That was something that we always worked on. Obviously with him being a defenseman and me being a forward, it is a little bit different. It is something we both worked hard on to get to this level, and we overcame that challenge to make it here.”
When the Bruins were in Western Canada in late February, Lucic was recognized by the Giants when they inducted him into their “Ring of Honour” on Milan Lucic Night. Lucic expects he will be joined by the two Predators blueliners down the road somewhere.
“I am sure that they will both be there sometime soon, no doubt,” Lucic said.