BostonBruins.com - Milan Lucic is one tough Boston Bruin.
In fact, he was once voted by his peers in an NHLPA poll in 2012 as "the toughest player in the league."
That "rough and tough" persona has been engrained in the now 6-foot-4, 235-pound power forward since he entered the league in 2007. It's the reason his checks and hard hits excite the TD Garden crowd and cause fans to chant "Loooooooch" game after game.
Recently, I had the chance to visit Milan in Vancouver with our #BearTracks crew to bring you offseason updates. For me, the most interesting part of these summer trips is discovering connections between the person away from the rink and the Boston Bruin on the ice.
In Milan's case, learning about his time growing up in East Vancouver helped to paint the picture of how his work ethic and "toughness" has carried over into the Black & Gold.
For starters, when the future Boston Bruin was growing up, he was surrounded by two brothers.
"Yeah, that helped getting tough," Lucic laughed, as he finished up a tour of his childhood home last week, showing pictures of his family and former playing days. "Rough and tough."
Though it was all "brotherly love," they all played hockey and all challenged each other.
But it's not just his physical toughness that has set Lucic apart on the ice; it's also his mental toughness.
And nowhere was that more apparent than in the famous Game Seven comeback against Toronto this past postseason.
"Man Among Boys"
Lucic had gone through a trying regular season, one he had to somehow mentally power through, despite not getting many of the desired results. So when he came up with a huge do-or-die performance in that series-clinching game, his teammates (and fans) saw the type of player they knew he could be.
His general manager certainly took notice as well.
"What I can take away in respect to Looch is - I just go back to that Toronto game," Bruins' GM Peter Chiarelli said during his season-ending media availability, reflecting on Lucic's playoff performance. "He passed it to Horton and then he came behind the bench and the way he said it, delivered his message to the bench: 'There's one, boys. Got a couple more to go.' That, to me, that speaks to the leadership."
"I think it just raises the level. He was a man among boys that game."
So, how did the boy growing up in Vancouver become the man among boys in the NHL?
Instilled Work Ethic, On and Off the Ice
There is much more to the story, of course - much more than there is room here to tell. But even a glimpse into Lucic's life growing up and the beginning of his playing career in Vancouver helped to paint at least part of the picture.
Let's bring it all back to the toughness. He was physically tough in that Game Seven, yes, but it was his will to win that certainly put him over the edge. His desire. His leadership, as Peter Chiarelli had said.
And that doesn't happen overnight.
So in Vancouver, when I spoke with Lucic's trainer Ian Gallagher, who has worked with the forward for the past eight years, I wanted to know, had he ever viewed the forward as "a man among boys"? Had he seen that will firsthand?
He, after all, had known Lucic through all of his years of development as a player in juniors, and working his way up to the big leagues.
"He starts at the upper end from a power perspective," said Gallagher, acknowledging Lucic's power status (while also noting he's still nowhere near his peak yet…) "Yeah, he's in that upper echelon."
"His work ethic’s the thing that I believe separates him. Every day, when he shows up, he tries to be that top performer. That’s consistent every day."
While Lucic is still striving towards building that same consistency on the ice from year to year with the B's, he keeps maintaining his strong work ethic from day to day.
That's something that has been with him since he was young, learning from his parents, and grandparents. And it's that type of attitude that has helped catapult him beyond just his physical toughness, and into moments like we saw during Game Seven.
"My grandparents, when they came over [from Serbia], they came with nothing. They worked hard for every penny that they’ve earned and it’s like the attitude that I’ve taken throughout my life. You've got to work for what you get," said Lucic.
"I think that’s been a big part of me getting to where I am."
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