BOSTON — Milan Lucic is having relationship problems.
See, there’s this girl. Gorgeous girl. Lucic has known her his entire life. She’s sophisticated and enchanting, but grounded. Sure, her disposition turns grey and bleak at times, and she’s expensive to be around. But when she smiles, it’s like all the diamonds in the world are in one place, sparkling for you. Her name is Vancouver.
And lately, she has been breaking Milan Lucic’s heart.
“I never knew it would go this way,” Lucic, the Boston Bruins’ winger, said Monday of the strain he feels toward his hometown. “It does hurt you a little bit. I’m an athlete and have grown up my whole life loving competition. It just happened to be I was on the team that was going up against my hometown team — the team I grew up cheering for — and it went my way instead of Vancouver’s way.
“I wish people could just forget about that when I go home. I’m just a regular person like anybody else.”
Well, not quite, because Lucic makes $6 million a year in the National Hockey League and that kind of money, no matter people say, tilts things. But what really distinguishes him is that he was a forceful part of the Bruins’ team that deprived Vancouver of its first Stanley Cup in a century when it beat the Canucks in the epic 2011 final.
That was the series, Lucic said, when his parents and grandparents were harassed at Rogers Arena.
A year later, vandals defaced the family’s church in East Vancouver. Then seven weeks ago, after the Canucks thumped the Bruins 6-2 in Lucic’s first game in his hometown since the Stanley Cup win, the 25-year-old somehow ended up in front of a Granville Street nightclub in an altercation with a man.
An embarrassing smartphone video of the incident showed Lucic telling police he had been punched twice and bellowing at the alleged assailant: “Do you know who you’re f------ with?”
No charges were laid, but Lucic initially inflamed matters when he told Boston reporters the next day: “I have no reason left to defend my city and the people of my city. I’m just disgusted and outraged that it had to come to something like that.”
That blanket indictment hung for a day before Lucic issued a conciliatory statement: “As I have had more time to think, I want to make it clear that regardless of what has happened, I am still — and always will be — proud to be from there. It is home.”
It wasn’t like this for Andrew Ladd of Maple Ridge or Delta’s Brent Seabrook when the Chicago Blackhawks bounced the Canucks from the playoffs on their way to a Stanley Cup in 2010. Or for Burnaby’s Joe Sakic earlier in the decade when the Colorado Avalanche won its second Stanley Cup and had a rivalry with the Canucks that escalated so dangerously that Todd Bertuzzi ended Steve Moore’s career in 2004.
When former Canuck Willie Mitchell won a Stanley Cup with the Los Angeles Kings in 2012, launching it with a first-round demolition of the Canucks, his day with the trophy was like a civic holiday on Vancouver Island. It was a lovefest. When Lucic brought the Cup home to Vancouver in 2011, he was so wary of inciting Canucks fans or appearing to flaunt the Bruins’ victory that he organized a private party for friends and family atop Grouse Mountain.
“The unfortunate part is I’ve always prided myself on just being a regular person and acting like a regular person and being among regular people, never putting myself on a pedestal and pretending to be someone bigger,” Lucic, the son of a longshoreman, said after the Bruins practised for Tuesday’s game against the Canucks.
“I never wanted to be that person. But I end up in a situation like what happened (at the nightclub) and now I have to think twice as far as putting myself in that situation.”
It didn’t get much publicity, but Lucic also said the day after the December incident that “you’ve got to take ownership of it and know that it happened because you were in that situation.”
Lucic wasn’t carried to the sidewalk. He didn’t have to drink with his friends in a public venue downtown, full of inebriated people, early in the morning after a volatile Canucks-Bruins’ game.
But, still, you can’t imagine a Vancouverite, no matter how ardently he supported the Canucks, walking up to Sakic anywhere and punching him in the face.
The animosity has to do with how Lucic plays and for whom, and how he and his team not only beat the Canucks in the Stanley Cup Final, but bullied them. And since we’re all Canucks, he/they must have done it to us, too.
But none of that makes Lucic a bad person and deserving of an assault.
“Am I supposed to be sorry we won?” he said Monday. “I’m an athlete; I play to win, no matter who it’s against. I don’t want anyone to feel bad for me or sorry for me. I’m just saying I wish it wasn’t this way.”
He means his relationship to Vancouver, where he went to Killarney high school and nearly quit hockey at 16, but persevered and made the Junior-B Delta Ice Hawks, then the Junior-A Coquitlam Express and the Western Hockey League’s Vancouver Giants.
Bypassed by the Canucks in the NHL draft, Lucic was named the Memorial Cup’s most valuable player when the Giants brought a rare major hockey championship to Vancouver in 2007. On home ice.
A jubilant, youthful Lucic told me that night: “Hometown boy. There’s nothing better than winning the Memorial Cup here. There’s only one trophy out there that could top this one.”
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