Milan Lucic bounded into the hearts of Boston Bruins fans as soon as he entered the league in 2007 as a 19-year-old rookie. In short order, calls of LOOCH could be heard in the Garden urging him down the ice and he eventually earned the Seventh Player award from the fans. That was the year that the Bruins started playing like a championship team which eventually led to the ultimate prize of the Stanley Cup in 2011. Living in a salary cap world, however, means that even championship players with huge hearts may have to be traded and in the summer of 2015, that day came for Boston’s beloved “Looch” when he was traded to the Los Angeles Kings. After a year in Los Angeles, Lucic’s former Boston GM, Peter Chiarelli, came calling and convinced the left winger to come to the Edmonton Oilers. My husband, Darryl Houston Smith, and I caught up with Milan in Dallas before the game against the Stars on November 19, 2016. This is an edited version of the interview.
Inside Hockey: Just nine years ago, you were the rookie. Now you’re a veteran leader. How has that changed your approach to your game?
Milan Lucic: Nothing has changed, really. You just have to be the person you’ve been over the last nine years of your career. Having a positive attitude and having the right mindset, playing hard and practicing hard, that goes a long way to setting the right kind of winning atmosphere. For me, I have just come here to try to be myself and hope that I’m a good influence on all my teammates, and hopefully, I can be a part of a good team here like I’ve been in the past. It is a process, there is a lot of learning that needs to be done in order for players to play a certain way. We had a great start this season. Things have slipped a little recently, but I’m hoping we can get back on track.
IH: During your early years in Boston, you were well known for being a prankster. Have you had to tone that down now that you are a senior player?
ML: Yeah, for sure. I can’t be the same goof-ball I was back then. I have to take things a little more seriously now. But that’s a part of growing up with the game and a part of being a leader. So far, I have enjoyed it.
IH: What is it like being reunited with your ex-Boston Bruin GM Peter Chiarelli and teammate Andrew Ference?
ML: I have a great relationship with them both and had great success with them, as well. A big part of the reason why I decided to come to Edmonton was because of my relationship with Peter. It is great to be back on the same page as him and, hopefully, we can have the same success together in Edmonton as we did in Boston.
IH: You are a student of the game. Who does Connor McDavid remind you of the most?
ML: I have to say he’s his own unique talent – the way he skates; the way he is able to do things at such a high speed. Last year, even though it was a short season, he proved to everyone that he would be a high caliber player in this league and he is showing it again this year. He’s not like Crosby, Ovechkin, Jagr, or Sakic. I think he is his own type of player. The sky is the limit for Connor. He’s going to be as special as all those guys I just named.
IH: When you were in Los Angeles, you were very open about the fact that your daughters loved going to Disneyland. How are they making the adjustment to Edmonton? Have you told them that Winter is coming?
ML: There is no doubt that my daughters enjoyed the fact that Disneyland was only 35-minute car ride away. I think I went 7 or 8 times with them and I really had fun doing that. But when they are that young [Valentina is 3 and Nikolina is 1], they don’t know where they are. They are just happy to be together as a family. When we were talking about the move to Edmonton, I told my oldest that we were going to Queen Elsa’s house up north where it is cold, using the whole Disney Frozen thing. She was happy when she heard that.
IH: Which of your old Boston teammates had the greatest influence over you as a player? And which one had the greatest influence over you as a man?
ML: I would say, the one who had the greatest influence over me as a man would definitely be Shawn Thornton. He was a mentor to me when I came into the league as a 19-year-old. We were on the same line for more than half that season. The way we helped each other and the way he took care of me was really taught me a lot. He definitely took an old-school approach to guiding me which made me the man I am today. He was hard on both my roommate, Mark Stuart, and me, precisely because he liked us and he wanted us to learn how to play the right way.
As for the teammate who had the most influence on my game, I would have to say that would be Jarome Iginla because of how much I looked up to him as a teenager. He was everything I wanted to be in the NHL. It was really awesome when I got to play alongside him in Boston – even if it was for just one season. As a teammate, getting to see how he goes about his business day by day was instructive. We won the President’s trophy that year. Unfortunately, we didn’t get the Stanley Cup.