Flames’ Lucic fails to answer the bell in latest Battle of Alberta

Milan Lucic talks with the media about trying to be a physical presence during the Battle of Alberta.

CALGARY – Standing his ground at the front of the Calgary Flames‘ dressing room, Milan Lucic faced the criticism head on.

If only he handled the Edmonton Oilers in such direct fashion.

On the heels of a three-game war with his former club in which he was a mere spectator, Lucic finally entered the spotlight Monday to answer questions about his inability to get involved.

While the likes of Sean Monahan, Matthew Tkachuk, Buddy Robinson and even Cam Talbot found themselves squaring off against Oilers combatants, Lucic didn’t so much as draw a two-minute minor, or even a crowd.

How, in the name of Eddie Shore, can that happen?

“I don’t know what people expect,” said the 31-year-old winger, who was traded for James Neal this summer with an eye on adding team toughness.

“It’s not the ’80s anymore. You can’t just go around jumping people. There are certain situations you wish you were on the ice for. The goalie fight and all that was just stuff that happened organically. It’s not like I can jump off the bench or just go around punching people in the head. I got a two-game suspension this year earlier for defending my goaltender with a jab.”

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It’s foolish to believe Lucic should or could have found someone to drop the mitts with following Saturday’s melee that ended with everybody’s favourite two words: goalie fight.

No Oiler would have obliged him given the lopsided score.

But there can be no doubt Lucic fell short in his role when looking back over a contentious three-game set that had a trio of Flames trying to motivate their team with their very first NHL fights.

Does he find that regrettable, or something that can’t be measured in fights?

“I just think you can’t measure it just based on fights,” said Lucic, in the awkward position of trying to point out there are few tough enough who will ever take his invite to tussle.

“The game has changed a lot since I first came in it. It’s not like there are a lot of willing combatants out there in the league today. If you notice, it’s pretty quiet out there when I’m on the ice. There’s never anything after the whistle when I’m on the ice. Even when I try to mix it up, things kind of just cool off really quick. With today’s game and the league policing it the way that they do, you can’t just go around being an idiot.”

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Only two of his 137 NHL fights have come this season.

While Lucic’s mere presence certainly has an effect that’s hard to quantify on many nights, the temperature of these three battles dictated much more from him.

Deep down, he knows it.

“You’ve got to find a way to make an impact,” he admitted.

“It’s old teammates, too. I’ve said it a lot of times before – you keep your friendships before and after the game. And when you’re on the ice, the only people that are your friends are the people wearing the same jerseys as you, regardless of old teammates and old team.

“It’s no secret those guys over there know me well, too. They know I play better when I’m riled up. They know the scouting report on me that’s been out for a long time is, ‘don’t poke the bear.’ They know that because they’ve played with me. But like I said, you’ve got to do whatever you can to get yourself involved any way you can, no matter what the opponent is, or what the situation is.”

Coach Geoff Ward deflected the obvious storyline following Saturday’s loss, saying he’s got too much history with the player to fuel the criticism. On Monday he was asked again.

“We’ve dealt with it as a team in there and that’s going to stay in there,” he said.

“Everybody has got their opinions about it and everybody is weighing in on it, but for us, that’s something we really think is something that should remain internal.”

As expected, teammates rushed to Lucic’s defence.

“He didn’t fight because no one wants to fight him — that’s the bottom line,” said Mark Giordano.

“In our league, there’s not too many guys who can match up with Looch. He’s a presence out there, whether he fights or not. A lot of times, guys like that have a tough time finding fights because of who they are.”

No doubt.

“Looch is the toughest guy in the league and our team — I feel like that question is ridiculous,” said Travis Hamonic when asked if Lucic could have been more involved.

“I know, playing against Looch, he’s one of those guys you don’t want to come close to on the ice when things are happening.”

That said, even Lucic admitted he needs to be more of a self-starter.

“I know what my role is and how to do it,” said the six-foot-three, 231-pounder.

“Just come to play every game and play with emotion. Sometimes you can’t have the other team wake you up. Sometimes you’ve got to take it upon yourself to wake yourself up. That’s what it is moving forward.”


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