CALGARY — The puck had only to be in the general vicinity of Milan Lucic in the Calgary Flames’ home-opener for the Saddledome to take up the call.
Lucic is no stranger to the foghorn croon of “Loooooooch” from the fans of teams he’s played for, but the Flames’ newcomer appreciated it just the same Saturday.
“It’s pretty cool to have that right off the start,” Lucic said Monday. “Makes you kind of feel good about yourself and comfortable right off the get-go.
“The fans are pumped to have you so you want to do what you can to play well for them.”
Acquired from the Edmonton Oilers in exchange for James Neal, the summer trade was viewed as a swap of expensive, underperforming wingers both in need of jumpstarts.
Attempting to Find Scoring Touch Again
Lucic is trying to rediscover the touch that averaged .61 points per game his first decade in the league.
He was a 30-goal man in 2011 when he won a Stanley Cup with the Boston Bruins and is two goals away from a career 200.
In the meantime, the six-foot-three, 231-pound power forward from Vancouver is employing the other tool in his toolbox to earn the respect of his new teammates and their fans.
Coming to the defence of Austin Czarnik, who was checked hard into the boards by Colorado’s Nikita Zadorov in the season-opener in Denver, Lucic rang up 17 minutes worth of penalties in one whistle.
“Not just my teammates, you kind of want to show everyone including yourself that you can still bring it,” the 31-year-old said.
“It’s one of those things that happened in that play in Colorado. It’s just a natural thing to stand up for your teammate in that sense.
“Sometimes getting physically and emotionally engaged helps you get into the game and gets your game going the way that you want it to go. I’ve got to do what I can to keep it going obviously.”
Hooking and tripping minors in Saturday’s 3-0 win at home over the Vancouver Canucks made Lucic the NHL’s early leader in penalty minutes with 21 in two games.
His career high was 136 with Boston in 2008-09.
“You don’t want to do that too much where you’re hurting your team, but it is what it is at this point,” Lucic said.
Sandpaper types Matthew Tkachuk and Sam Bennett give the Flames an edge, but Lucic is a different type of intimidator.
Opposing players don’t want to wake the giant lest they be on the receiving end of a battering-ram check or arm wrestling those beefy shoulders in a post-whistle scrum.
“He’s a presence out there,” Bennett said. “He quiets guys on their team just being out on the ice. We felt it when we played against him in Edmonton.”
Kings Present Interesting Challenge
The Los Angeles Kings (0-1-0) are in town to face the Flames (1-1-0) on Tuesday, making for an interesting confluence around Lucic.
He played a season for Los Angeles in 2015-16 before signing as a free agent in Edmonton.
Lucic counts among his friends Kings defenceman Drew Doughty, whose friction with Tkachuk extends back to the latter’s rookie season when Tkachuk received a two-game suspension for elbowing Doughty in the face.
“I love Drew Doughty and he knows how much I like him, but now I’m on Tkachuk’s side,” Lucic said. “I obviously have to stand up for Chucky if anything happens.”
Doughty accepts that.
“Looch is not going to shy up on a check or anything like that against me,” the defenceman said. “He’s going to stand up for his teammates. He’s not going to choose a friendship over a teammate ever.
“I love playing against Looch. I like him very much as a person.”
Todd McLellan, who coached Lucic in Edmonton the previous three seasons, is the new man behind the Kings’ bench.
“I think it’s great for Looch because he’s got a nice, fresh start,” McLellan said. “I watched him play the first two games. He had an impact on the game.
“Looch is an outstanding individual. You guys know that when you’re in the locker room, how he can carry a conversation, the passion he has for the game.
“They’re lucky to have him in the locker room and I know he’ll have a positive impact on the Flames.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 7, 2019.
Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press