|B’s Bruiser returns to the Looch Lair||10.28.08 at 9:32 am ET|
It’s a homecoming tonight for Vancouver homeboy Milan Lucic, who played junior hockey for the Vancouver Giants and is appropriately pumped to play his first ever NHL game at GM Place against the Canucks on Tuesday night. The local Vancouver media has the requisite “prodigal pugilist coming home” stories with the best of them including a photo gallery and baby picture of Looch before he became the 20-year-old glass-shattering Hulk lurking on the TD Banknorth Garden ice.
Lucic told ESPN’s Louise K. Cornetta last weekend that he was understandably besieged by ticket requests in his home city, but he instead bought just seven tickets for his parents, siblings and grand-parents to attend the game. Lucic’s older brother Jovan, however, rented out a luxury box at GM Place for at least 70 of Lucic’s closest admirers, so there should be an usual amount of cheering and “Looch Calls” for the Bruiser in the Spoked B on Tuesday night.
The Looch started slowly during B’s training camp this fall amid expectations that he was going to immediately morph into Cam Neely as a 20-year-old NHL neophyte, but it’s fair to say he’s now hitting his stride after creating a youtube sensation with his monster hit against the Maple Leafs and then following that by rattling off the first hat trick of his career last weekend. Much of Lucic’s success can be traced to the natural physical gifts bestowed upon the hulking power forward, but the youngster also has the work ethic to match — as his former Vancouver Giants strength and conditioning coach, Ian Gallagher, told Pucks with Haggs last month:
‘He’s got a great frame to put on muscle mass and handle it. He’s got great levers and he’s got a very strong core and a good musculature to him that allows him to excel,’ said Gallagher. ‘His leg mass is tremendous. His leg press is well over 900 pounds for eight reps and his power clean for reps is 275 pounds, which are both really football player-like numbers.
‘Which is a little amazing because he’s got a very unassuming musculature to him. Because you look at his arms and there’s not a heck of a lot of mass to them, but his core is just so bloody powerful. His legs are massive and his trunk is massive, and when he gets those big muscles going it demonstrates itself in a powerful way when he collides with somebody or when he’s shooting the puck. I think it’s one of his biggest assets.’
|Looch seeing clearly now||10.25.08 at 8:39 pm ET|
Good times all-around for the Bruins following a 5-4 win over the Thrashers Saturday night at the TD Banknorth Garden before an announced crowd of 16,044 — a rowdy bunch that booed the B’s off the ice when they were down 2-0 following the first period and then easily tossed 50 hats on the ice following Milan Lucic’s game-winning third goal of the night with 1:41 to go in the third period.
It was the B’s first hat trick since Phil Kessel pulled it off early last season against the LA Kings on Oct. 12, 2007.
The big hero on the evening was the same punishing guy that utilized brute strength to shatter the glass around the boards while checking a Maple Leafs defenseman just two days earlier. This time the Looch used his strength and skill to camp out in front of the net and notch the first multiple goal game of his career, a performance that might have been aided by a recent decision to use contact lenses on the ice.
Lucic started using contacts while playing the Leafs on Thursday night — after just wearing glasses when he was watching TV at night for the last three years or so — and things have appropriately taken off for the hulking 6-foot-4, 220-pounder.
“This is my second game wearing contacts out there, so it’s a lot easier to see the puck when your vision is clear. [Wearing contacts] is like going from a regular, old TV to a High-Definition TV, so that’s the perspective that I have now,” said Lucic, who last collected le trick de chapeau (that’s only a strict Haggs French translation right there, so don’t go parading that little bon mot down St. Catherine Street. “[The hat trick] was nice, but one goal, two goals, no goals…it doesn’t matter to me as long as we get the win.”
B’s head coach Claude Julien says that he still sees Lucic squinting and wincing on the ice out of habit, but will take whatever aid is helping Looch perform out on the frozen sheet — while also pointing out that the good and fearless work habits exhibited by the brawny forward are a good example for the rest of the team. Lucic fights to keep his position in the offensive zone with ferocious intent, and brandishes a fearless willingness to brave into the violent areas of the ice where both goals are made and blood is spilled on occasion.
“Looch got rewarded tonight for being willing to [go to the front of the net] and paying the price. He’s got the physique to do it, and if he keeps doing it he’s going to keep scoring goals,” said Julien. “This is the Boston Bruins and it’s about heart and soul and working hard, and Looch is the perfect example of that. He won us a hockey game tonight with the game that he played and the identity that we’re talking about.”
–Just before face-off with Atlanta, the Bruins announced that the third period in tonight’s game would be split, with the teams switching ends at the first stoppage in play after the 10-minute mark of the period.
The change in format is occurred due to incorrect markings on the West End (visitors bench side) of the TD Banknorth Garden Ice. In the West End, the two face-off dots are 24 feet from the goal line – four feet longer than NHL specifications — a discrepancy that was first noticed by New Bedford Standard Times hockey reporter Mick Colageo. The corresponding face-off circles are also four feet further away from the goal line.
The Bruins and Thrashera began the third period in the same ends that they finished the second period. Following the first stoppage after the 10-minute mark of the third period, the teams switched ends, and the face-off took place on the opposite side of where play ended.
The current sheet of ice was installed on September 9, 2008, and the error was not noticed by the Bruins until this morning. Due to the error, the NHL mandated the changes to tonight’s game format.
‘Of the many logistical tasks the Garden operations team is called upon to perform each season, painting and marking the ice sheet is one of the more routine and straight-forward. Therefore, this oversight is simply an inexcusable and disappointing error for which we apologize to the Boston Bruins and the NHL at-large,’ said TD Banknorth Garden President John Wentzell.
–Aside from the Lucic on-ice heroics, the game also featured a Julien-fueled tongue-lashing between the first and the second period when the B’s found themselves down by two goals while playing a pretty uninspired brand of hockey.
Let’s let Julien tell the story:
“To put it mildly [the effort] was unacceptable by individuals and as a group. Right now I think it’s pretty obvious that we’ve got a lot of our good players that aren’t at the top of their games. We can stand here and pretend and sugarcoat it. But maybe it’s encouraging because it means that we can be that much better when everybody finds their games and starts playing the way they can.”
–One thing to look for going forward is increased ice time and responsibility — and a bump up to the first unit — for the former second power play unit of David Krejci, Milan Lucic, Dennis Wideman, Andrew Ference and Phil Kessel.
That quintet provided a pair of power play strikes in Saturday night’s win and have been dangerous with the man advantage while mixing responsible play with Lucic’s toughness, Kessel’s sniper-like abilities and Krejci’s playmaking skills with the puck. The second-teamers were the first one’s out on the man advantage a handful of times on Saturday night, and that may be the case in the B’s foreseeable future — per the orders of their coach.
“They’ve been going first because they’ve been our best power play [unit],” said Julien. “They’re the ones that have given us the most goals, and — hey — why not have a little competition between the two power play [teams]? If you want to be first, then go out there and earn it.”
“It’s important right now that players don’t take it as a position of status and think they’re automatically going to get that ice time,” said Julien. “[The second power play unit]” has earned the right to start as we speak.”
|Sounds of the game… Bruins 5, Atlanta 4||at 8:16 pm ET|
In the words of colleague Joe Haggerty, the Thrashers felt the power of the Looch on Saturday night at TD Banknorth Garden as the Bruins erased an early 2-0 hole and beat the Atlanta Thrashers, 5-4, for their first home win of the season.
It was a night of firsts as Milan Lucic collected his first career hat trick. In fact, it was the first multiple goal game in the league.
|Straight through the checking glass||10.24.08 at 12:29 pm ET|
The B’s Friday morning practice was one predictably filled with skating, more skating and a big helping of sheepish regret after frittering one away against a divisional opponent the night before at the Garden. The B’s are still looking for their first win on home ice, and Claude Julien still clearly wasn’t happy with the effort against the Leafs. Friday morning the B’s whistle blower called it “by far our worst game of the season.”
It wasn’t an out-and-out punitive bag skate for the Bruins at practice with the Atlanta Thrashers on the schedule for Saturday night, but it was clear that the team was being called on to reinforce the little things: more grit and tenacity around the net and the danger areas in the offensive zone and the mental strength to stick within Julien’s defensive system when play starts to break down on the ice.
“We need to get a little hungrier,” said Julien. “I think being hungrier can get us over the hump a little. It’s not what our fans deserve, and that’s why we have to show that we have some pride and bounce back tomorrow and show [the fans] the real Boston Bruin team.”
One moment of levity during the media session following practice involved the Looch – AKA Milan Lucic – recounting how he basically threw a Toronto Maple Leafs player through the glass boards and shattered a 1/2 inch thick pane of glass on the side wall. Lucic said that he thinks that the hit was aided by both his and Mike Van Ryn’s sticks hitting the top of the glass-like material, where the acrylic sheet is most vulnerable.
“It felt cool. I heard a couple of people went to the hospital and got stitches and stuff, and that kinda sucks that it happened like that. If you look at it, the way somebody explained it to me, it’s the top of the glass that’s very vulnerable. If you see the hit, when it happens our sticks hit the top of the glass and then I hit him. So just hitting the top of the glass put so much pressure and helped make it shatter. The sticks hitting the top of the glass triggered the whole thing and the glass breaking.”
Doesn’t that take away some of the sheer awesome power of the hit and growing mythology of the fire-breathing Looch lurking in Boston?
“Well, there still had to be a lot of power. Obviously now I know how to do it. It was a hard hit and it felt cool, that’s for sure,” said Lucic. “I received a lot of text messages and they were all like ‘holy smokes’ and one guy asked me if I worked out enough this summer. It was on TSN in Canada and all kinds of people told me they saw it.”
The hit reminded Marc Savard a bit of the plate of glass that landed on Janet Gretzky and knocked The Great One’s wife out cold after mustache-twirling Bruins villian Ulf Samuelsson crashed into the boards with similar force during a New York Rangers game. Savard was a member of the Rangers at the time and remembered the scary incident pretty vividly.
“Yeah, I had seen that when a guy got hit into the boards and the glass popped out and hit Janet right in the forehead,” said Saved. “She was bleeding out of the mouth. It was a scary sight, and just Thank God that nobody got seriously injured. It’s a part of the game. [Looch] is a big boy and anytime he hits you, you feel it. A lot of people felt that one.
“It really put a stall in the game. It was a good hit, but we didn’t really muster much after that. Saturday [against the Thrashers] gives a good chance to redeem that.”
Here’s the Samuelsson hit that knocked out the glass boards and subsequently injured The Great One’s wife back in the late 1990′s, courtesy of the all-knowing and all-powerful youtube:
|No Bread and Butter for B’s||at 12:43 am ET|
Not good times for the Bruins on a Thursday night when things looked so good early, but then the fat-and-happy B’s allowed a seemingly lesser Toronto Maple Leafs team to outskate, outwit and outlast them over the final two periods of a 4-2 loss at the TD Banknorth Frozen Sheet.
Things got off to a swimming start when Patrice Bergeron potted his first goal since coming back from a season-ending concussion last season and rookie Blake Wheeler shook off some rookie doldrums to the give the Spoked B’s a 2-0 lead. There was also some physical intimidation mixed in with the lamp-lighting as Dennis Wideman completely smoked Matt Stajan at mid-ice in the first period, and Milan Lucic shattered the large block of glass around the boards when he flattened Leafs defenseman Mike Van Ryn into the side wall.
The incident was voted Number One on ESPN SportsCenter’s Top 10 plays for the night, but the tumbling shards of glass also resulted in injuries to four fans while also causing a roughly 15 minute delay to replace the glass. In the balance of those few minutes the life seemed to get sucked right out of the Bruins, and they really couldn’t do anything right for the rest of the game.
The Leafs, on the other hand, went from being puck roadkill over the first 20:20 of the game to a nothing-to-lose bunch firing away on offense and watching Vesa Toskala and the Leafs ‘D’ shut down an easily satisfied B’s offense.
There were a multitude of postgame quotes about being outworked and outhustled in the Bruins locker room — the first time this season that the B’s dropped a stink bomb down at an NHL rink without their customary grit and sandpaper style. Two of the biggest culprits for the Thursday night breakdown seemed to be Phil Kessel and Marc Savard, who were kept off the scoreboard, registered only three shots on goal and each had a game-high two giveaways. Julien didn’t call them out by name, but you’ll get the drift. Heeere’s Julien:
“I think that some of our top guys tonight weren’t playing like our top guys. I’m not going to mention any names. I don’t have to. Everyone knows what I’m talking about. Your best players have to be your best players. I know it clichÃ© but it is what it is. Our best players were certainly not our best players. Everyone from top to bottom was flat. This is our bread and butter, our work ethic, and our commitment. We didn’t have our bread and butter tonight.”
To the Bruins credit, many of the players rang a similar tone in the Boston locker room including Milan Lucic, the author of the body check felt ’round the hockey world, who teamed with Savard and Kessel to form a pretty lackluster line thar could get busted up by an unhappy Julien if things continue as they have. One thing is for certain: the guys in the Bruins sweaters will do a fair amount of skating in practice on Friday.
The Good news: P.J. Axelsson appeared to be over his back spasms.
In the bad news department: The Bruins power play went 0-for-4 and was another areas that made Julien chafe visibly following the hockey game: “We had a chance with a power play to score the third goal. You have to learn to play with the lead. When you have the lead it doesn’t mean you can take the foot off the pedal. Tonight even though it was a 2-0 hockey game we had a couple breaks, a couple lucky bounces to get the 2-0 lead. We should have taken advantage of that and understood that we weren’t playing that well.”
|Ready to drop the puck!||10.09.08 at 5:38 am ET|
So, I’ll have a full-blown NHL preview up on PWH at some point today, but I just wanted to troll around the Internet and A) see if I could travel all the way to the end of it or B) find as many NHL previews as possible to get a sense of what the “National” sentiment is concerning the Bruins.
I imagine that most hockey experts are in one of two camps when it comes to the guys in the Spoked B’s sweaters: either they feel like the Bruins showed real improvement with a young cast of characters last season and should be better with ever-maturing prospects skating along with a healthy Patrice Bergeron. The other school of thought is that the Bruins overacheived on some level while sneaking into the playoffs, and they won’t be able to sneak up on unsuspecting hockey teams this season like they did last year.
I’m more inclined to go with the former theory that the Bruins are playoff-worthy with tight defense and an aggressive sandpaper style of hockey, but this season they should be a bit more potent offensively with Bergeron on the PP. But that’s just me. Let’s see what everyone else has to say:
ESPN’s John Buccigross (who I’ll give full credit to for being one of the few true “hockey guys” in Bristol) has the B’s finishing seventh in the Eastern Conference. An excerpt from his capsule on the Bruins: There is something about this team that I like. I sense a positive vibe around the Bruins that should be enhanced with the return of their best player, Patrice Bergeron. The Bruins have not won a playoff series since 1999, the only series they’ve won since the 1994 lockout. Not the 2004 lockout. They have been a sorry franchise. The Bruins are certainly not a lock to make the postseason, but for the first time in a while, Boston seems to have some organizational passion and a plan. The margin for error is small. The key players need to be healthy, and the young players need to be important players without a drop-off.
The Hockey News has the Bruins finishing tenth in the Eastern Conference: There isn’t much explanation behind their pick on the Hockey News web site, but they see the Bruins finishing ahead of only the Buffalo Sabres, Florida Panthers, Atlanta Thrashers, Toronto Maple Leafs and New York Islanders. This is one prognostication that I would consider the “glass half-emptiest prediction.”
Sports Illustrated picks the Bruins to finish seventh in the East and again qualify for the playoffs while also picking Zdeno Chara as the Northeast Division MVP and Milan Lucic as the division’s “player to watch”: Don’t mistake these Bruins for the bruisers who famously carried the club in the 1970s and ’80s, but this is the Northeast’s most physical team, and Boston should bully its way to a second straight playoff berth. Boston was 24th in the NHL in goals last season, something the addition of free agent Michael Ryder will help but won’t cure by itself. The Bruins’ real center of attention is mild-mannered pivot Patrice Bergeron (above), who missed all but 10 games of the Bruins’ 18-point revival last season.
Yahoo Sports Hockey Editor Ross McKeon picked the Bruins third in the Northeast Division, but says they’ll
be hard-pressed to again make the playoffs (one thing I would say is that he really needs to get over the Joe Thornton trade): The Bruins still miss Joe Thornton, whether they admit it or not. It seems like everything is going to have to go right for Boston to be a solid playoff team, sand considering all the bumps a team faces in the regular season, the guess is the Bruins will be in a dogfight to slip into a playoff spot again.
CBS Sportsline’s Wes GoldStein has the Bruins finishing second in the Northeast Division and has coach Coach Claude Julien winning the Adams Award this season: The Bruins accelerated their building process with a surprise appearance in the playoffs last season and nearly upsetting Montreal in the first round. The expectations will be higher this time. The best news though for Boston has been the return of Patrice Bergeron, who missed almost all of last season because of a concussion, and has looked very good in the preseason.
Inside Hockey’s James Murphy has the Bruins finishing seventh in the Eastern Conference and making the playoffs: The Bruins were one of last season’s most pleasant surprises, reverting back to the hard working, bruising style that defined them when the likes of Terry O’Reilly and Cam Neely wore the black and gold with pride. Much like those Bruins icons, sophomore winger Milan Lucic has become one of the faces of the franchise. The biggest additions are three players returning from injuries — center Patrice Bergeron, defenseman Andrew Alberts, and goaltender Manny Fernandez — all of whom could make a huge impact. If Tim Thomas can deliver a repeat performance between the pipes and Fernandez can provide a solid complement, the Bruins are fine in goal, and the Zdeno Chara-led defense is unquestionably stout. The biggest question is whether newcomer Michael Ryder and the returning Bergeron can conspire to make the Bruins’ offense click.
Fox Sports’ Darren Spang sees the Bruins returning to the playoffs and Spector (apprently rock stars and hockey analysts are in the same boat when it comes to one name monikers) has the Bruins finishing seventh in the Eastern Conference: The return of a healthy Patrice Bergeron at center should provide a significant boost to their offense. A consistent performance this season by goaltender Tim Thomas should bolster the Bruins’ postseason hopes. The improvement of young forwards Phil Kessel, Milan Lucic and David Krejci could also boost their forward depth, while head coach Claude Julien’s defensive system should make the Bruins tough to score against. Captain Zdeno Chara is still nursing a shoulder injury from last season and management is on the lookout for another puck-moving defenseman. While some gaps in the roster remain to be addressed, the Bruins appear in better shape this season than they were a year ago.
Be back in a bit with my own take on the Bruins and the NHL this season…let’s drop the puck already!
|Don’t mess with the Looch||10.02.08 at 10:02 am ET|
Milan Lucic quickly became a bone-shattering, haymaker-throwing fan favorite in his first season donning the Spoked B sweater as a 19-year-old rookie. But the puck pugilist left Boston last April hungry for greater personal and team success before heading back to the welcoming embrace of the Great White North of Vancouver for a summer of relaxation and off-season off-ice workouts.
While the hulking 6-foot-4, 220-pounder heads into his second NHL season expected to again project a looming physical presence and act as a battering ram on skates also capable of dropping the gloves when the situation dictates, Lucic spent the summer working on diversifying his game. He’s already shown a pretty good, soft pair of hands for a big guy and enough offensive instincts to register as a threat with the puck.
The big winger is hoping to reach somewhere in the neighborhood of 15-20 goals as his offensive puck game continues to mature and improve along with the rest of his Bruins teammates. There’s no identity crisis brewing with the 20-year-old big B’s lug, however. Looch fully understands that much of his on-ice demeanor should be like something out of the pages of an Incredible Hulk comic book: Lucic mad! Lucic Smash!
“I’ve got to stick to what I do best and that’s really straight-line hockey. There’s no reason to take the physicality out of my game at all because I’m more successful when I’m physical and creating momentum,” said Lucic, who finished second on the team with 89 penalty minutes last season. “You’ve got to keep the [fighting] in your game because you want to be that physical presence on the ice and you want to have an impact on the game.”
But the young left winger also knows that he flashed glimmers of offensive skill while putting up 9 goals and 18 helpers in 77 games. More will be expected of him — along with a bevy of his fellow young Bruins teammates – in Bruins Season 2.0, and Lucic targeted a few specific areas of offseason improvement with that in mind. With more shifts skating alongside offensive-minded linemates and a large helping of PP time, the big man’s point totals should rise right along with his PIMs.
With all that swirling around in his mind, Lucic recognized that his initial burst of skating speed wasn’t up to NHL snuff and is an area that could and should be improved. Big Looch was perfectly fine once he got those pistons firing in his skating legs and was churning at maximum power, but he felt like the explosive first step was missing.
“You know more of what to expect [coming into this season], but because I’m a young guy I’m still learning. In that sense, I think speed-wise I could have a quicker first step,” said Lucic. “Once I get going then I’m there but I really felt that first step was something I needed to work on.
“I feel like it’s there, but we’ll see where I’m at when the games really start. Hopefully I keep getting the minutes that I was getting last year. You do a lot of plyometrics and quick-feet stuff with the ladder and also explosive sprinting. I was doing parachute-work as well and going 40-meter sprints, 30-meter sprints, 20-meter sprints, 50-meter sprints with the parachute and then you rip the parachute off.”
Where did Lucic get the idea to use parachutes and other track-and-field style techniques to make himself a better hockey player, you ask?
Enter Ian Gallagher, Strength and Conditioning Coach for the Vancouver Giants. Gallagher has worked with Lucic from the time he was barely old enough to drive, and both coach and player tailored his off-season workouts around track exercises designed to improve his explosion and fast-twitch muscles. It was an easy assignment for Gallagher, who works with a large group of hockey players in the summer and always looks forward to his time with the blue collar kid from Vancouver.
Part of Gallagher’s joy comes from the tireless work ethic that Lucic lugs to the table with him, and the other huge part is some of the amazing feats of strength that the physical specimen puts on in the weight room. The legend started when Lucic was playing Junior Hockey in Canada for the Giants and it continued on into his first season with the Bruins.
“He certainly did a lot of his power speed-work and he’s getting older now…so his game is coming along appropriately fast. The first step is all about power that allows you to go from a stationary position to full exertion very quickly. So plyometrics are a big staple of his program and power cleaning is a big staple of his program. Change of direction is big with a lot of diagonal sprints where they’re stopping and going quickly.
“There was steady growth for Milan over the summer. He’s got great genetics and he’s a very committed person. He came back very motivated and very willing to improve, and his scores improved over the summer as you expect somebody would that’s got the proper motivation. Nothing surprises me with Milan though because he’s got a real disposition for growth.”
So just how eye-popping are the genetics of the tall and strapping winger, who defied the odds to crack the Bruins NHL roster as a 19-year-old last season and truly created an impact in Boston’s comeback campaign last year?
“He’s got a great frame to put on muscle mass and handle it. He’s got great levers and he’s got a very strong core and a good musculature to him that allows to excel,” said Gallagher. “His leg mass is tremendous. His leg press is well over 900 pounds for eight reps and his power clean for reps is 275 pounds, which are both really football player-like numbers.
“Which is a little amazing because he’s got a very unassuming musculature to him. Because you look at his arms and there’s not a heck of a lot of mass to them, but his core is just so bloody powerful. His legs are massive and his trunk is massive, and when he gets those big muscles going it demonstrates itself in a powerful way when he collides with somebody or when he’s shooting the puck. I think it’s one of his biggest assets.”
Those assets haven’t worked up to full-speed yet this preseason, but it’s only a matter of time before the 20-year-old turns those physical attributes into points and PIMs for the B’s this season.
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