To Boston

Milan Lucic, Left Winger / Los Angeles Kings - The Players' Tribune

This is how naive I was when I got to Boston. Are you ready for this?

We had this really nice guy who worked for the team and handled all the road travel. He was in his early 70s. His name was Johnny, and he was just awesome. I was a 19-year-old kid in my first training camp. I didn’t know what the hell was going on. I didn’t know about NHL travel. I knew about WHL buses. So Johnny had my back. He was kind of like a cool grandfather to me.

One day after practice, I was sitting in the locker room talking to one of my teammates, and I was like, “Johnny’s a real nice guy, eh?”

He goes, “Johnny who?”

“You know, the road guy. Johnny. Can’t remember his last name.”

“You mean Johnny friggin’ Bucyk?!”

“Is that his name? Sorry, man. Still trying to learn everybody.”

“Come here.”

He takes me over to the wall on the other side of the room and points to this framed photo. Black and white. No. 9 is holding up the Stanley Cup. His face is all scratched up and bruised. He’s smiling, so you can see his missing teeth.

“That’s Johnny Bucyk. The Chief. He won two Cups for the Bruins. He’s a legend.”

I was so embarrassed. But coming in, I had almost no idea about the history of the Bruins. I mean, yeah, I knew the names. Orr. Bourque. Neely. But growing up in Vancouver in the ‘90s, there was no Center Ice package. My parents were born in Yugoslavia. They weren’t big hockey fans. Whatever was on Hockey Night in Canada was all we knew. And 99 percent of the time, it was the Maple Leafs or the Canucks.

When I got called up to my first training camp in 2007, the whole Big Bad Bruins era was pretty foreign to me. Plus, I didn’t really think I was going to stick around long. I remember they gave me No. 62. That’s never a good sign. That’s the number they give to guys who are going back to Juniors.

When I came into the locker room the first day, I was just so happy to be around NHL players. Zdeno Chara walked in the room, and I was trying not to even make eye contact. I didn’t want him to think I was starstruck. I was so nervous and excited.

Zdeno saw the new kid and he walked right over to me. I’m a pretty big guy. But Zdeno is a monster. I remember looking up at him and actually thinking, Holy smokes. This guy is freaking huge.

He stuck out his big mitt.

“Hi, I’m Zdeno. Very nice to meet you.”

That’s what he said! Hi, I’m Zdeno. Like I didn’t know. Like I wasn’t freaking out about it.

I went in for the shake, and Big Z just crushed me. His grip was ridiculous.

I’m supposed to be coming in as this tough young kid who’s going to mix it up, right? That’s why they drafted me. I knew my role. And I shake Zdeno’s hand and it’s like, “Oh shit.”

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Thankfully, Boston was full of guys who had my back. One of them was Shawn Thornton. Early on, he gave me some very valuable advice: “Listen. It’s not about how many times you beat somebody up. It’s about how many times you don’t get beat up. You don’t always have to win. Just don’t lose.”

That reassured me somehow. But I was still No. 62. I knew I had to make my presence felt or I’d be on a plane back to Juniors. So my first game, I decided going in that I was going to drop the gloves. Just get it over with, you know? The night before the game, I looked up and down the Dallas Stars roster.

Hmm. This guy might go.

This guy probably won’t even bother with a rookie.

Definitely not ready to fight this guy. Monster heavyweight. Forget it.

So I picked out a few contenders. The game started and I knew I was probably only going to get like five minutes of ice time. So, first chance I got I was going.

My last thought was: Alright. You don’t have to win. Just don’t lose.

I was sitting on the bench fighting the butterflies. Waiting, waiting. I finally got tapped on the shoulder for a shift. My last thought was: Alright. You don’t have to win. Just don’t lose.

So I hop over the boards and see Brad Winchester out there. Real tough guy. 6-foot-5. I don’t even think I had to say anything. I just kind of looked at him. He knew.

We dropped the gloves and had at it.

I don’t remember a lot about the fight. What I remember is getting back from the penalty box and the guys on the bench giving me a nod. I didn’t lose.

But here’s the thing — we were on the road. A road fight is a road fight. A home fight is a different level. When I skated out in Boston for the first time, my adrenaline was through the roof. First shift, I had to go. I just felt like I had to show the fans the type of player I was going to be. I looked at Nick Tarnasky. Another really tough guy.

Back in 2007, it didn’t take much. Lots of willing participants.

“Wanna go?”


We went at it.

Again, I barely remember the fight. What I remember — actually, what I will never forget — is the sound of the Garden when the referee was taking me to the box.

That roar. Oh my gosh. It’s the best.

After that game, I thought, Man, what if we could bring that Big Bad mentality back? This city is ready for it. They love it.

The Bruins let me stick around. They gave me a real number. Johnny became one of my best friends, and he taught me a lot of history lessons. By the end of that first year, they were calling me and Thorny the Bruise Brothers.

We were still years away from the Stanley Cup, but those first few seasons, you could feel the atmosphere around the team changing. Remember, this was 2007-2008. Patriots. Sox. Celtics. All champions. We were lost in the shuffle for a while. I remember there being so many traveling Montreal fans that Chara would skate the puck out from behind the net and he’d be getting booed so loud that it was comical.

We were saved by the $10 Student Section. Those rowdy kids in Section 308 showed up every Tuesday night and went nuts. Props to Section 308. But by the end of that season, we were packing the place again. You could feel something special coming together.

During those first few years, Boston embraced me, and it really became my home.

Now that I’m coming back for the first time as a member of the Kings, I wanted to address the people who made Boston home for me. The hard part is, where do I even begin?

I could talk about the Stanley Cup season in 2011. But to be honest, the Stanley Cup was just the culmination of years and years of memories. Sometimes those memories were painful, like getting hurt and missing the Winter Classic at Fenway. Brutal. Or being up 3-games-to-none against the Flyers and somehow blowing the series. Still the saddest I’ve ever seen a locker room.

It’s crazy to say, but I really believe it: we don’t lift the Stanley Cup in 2011 if we don’t blow the Flyers series in 2010. It made us understand what it takes to win. When you think you’ve given everything, it takes just a little bit more.

Or I could think about the goofy memories, like going over to Thorny’s house every Thanksgiving with all the single guys and the European guys and the guys without families, and celebrating like Real Americans with turkey and wine and football. Even when I had my own family, I couldn’t break the tradition. We had to go to Thorny’s.

All of it was part of the journey. 

In five years, I went from walking in the room thinking Johnny friggin’ Bucyk was just some random team employee, to carrying the Stanley friggin’ Cup around the North End. That’s a lot of growing up. I became a man in Boston. I had a family in Boston.

But everything comes to an end.

This summer, I was working out one morning when a buddy sent me a text. It was a picture of a Tweet from an NHL insider. (I’m not a big social media guy).

“LA and Boston in talks for Lucic.”

I remember thinking, first off: Holy shit. Is my time really over?

Second: OK. I get it. I get the contract situation. Part of the business. But man … wow.

I tried to carry on with my day like nothing was happening. I finished my workout, but the whole time, I’m picturing myself in a Black and Silver jersey. I’m picturing moving my family across the country. It was a lot to take in.

In the back of my mind, I’m thinking, Well, if I really have to move on, if there’s one place I could pick to go, it would be Los Angeles. Two Cups in three years. Physical style. Sick jerseys. Closer to my family in Vancouver.

I’m texting my mom. I’m texting my wife. Honestly, she was on Twitter more than I was. She’s reporting back like, “Well this guy says you’re definitely being traded, but his profile picture is just a dog? Might be a random guy.”

I remember thinking, first off: Holy shit. Is my time really over?

It’s a crazy experience.

By 1 p.m., Twitter was saying it wasn’t happening.

Then around 3 p.m., it was back on.

Half an hour later, I got a call from Don Sweeney of the Bruins.

I was being moved.

It was an emotional call on both ends. When you’re attached to a place like that, it’s very tough.

But in the end, I needed a new chapter. I needed to be closer to my family in Vancouver, especially after my father’s passing.

Everything that happened to me in Boston, I’m so grateful for. But coming to the Kings was really exciting.

When I got to the room the first day, it was like … I don’t know, it was like I was 19 again. The new kid.

The funny thing is, me being me, with the style that I play, I obviously had to say hello to some guys I’d done battle with over the years. So I got it over with right away. I walked up to Jordan Nolan with a big smile. We fought in 2014, so it was pretty fresh. Kind of awkward, but that’s the job.

We were all good. Now our job is to have each other’s backs. Funny how it works.

I have to say, every day as an LA King has been a happy one. I don’t think I could have landed in a better spot for me and my family. But I’ll always appreciate how Boston shaped my life.

Coming back to the Garden for the first time this week, I’ll be battling the butterflies, for sure. Who knows, maybe I’ll just go out there and drop the mitts just to get the blood flowing. For old time’s sake.

Boston: Thank you. For everything.

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