CALGARY – In a quiet corner of the Saddledome, Milan Lucic ponders the accusation.
“Did I hate Matthew Tkachuk?” he repeats, before breaking into a massive grin.
“It’s the nature of the game. It’s an emotional game. He likes to run his mouth a bit and be that pest-type of player. I played with a really effective one with Brad Marchand and you know how effective he can be as a teammate.”
After being on opposite sides of the Battle of Alberta for three seasons, Lucic and Tkachuk are about to join forces for what may end up being as entertaining a duo as Wayne and Garth, Jerry and George or even Cheech and Chong.
The real life Itchy and Scratchy Show could debut as early as Saturday night when Lucic’s former team, the Oilers, come to town to close out the preseason.
The formula will be simple: One lights fires all over the ice, the other helps snuff them out.
Smokey the Bandit and Smokey the Bear.
The Trouble Maker and the Widow Maker.
In many ways it may end up being Lucic’s raison d’etre – his motivation on nights when the big man might otherwise be disengaged.
Over the last couple of years, Lucic has admittedly had trouble getting motivated.
But when he faced the notoriously nagging Tkachuk, his interest was often piqued, as the perennially frustrated Oilers were incessantly taunted by No. 19, who is truly his father’s son.
This year he’ll be an ally in the fight, a yin to Tkachuk’s yang, which should make for some pretty solid theatre.
“Oh for sure,” chuckled Lucic when asked if he thought Tkachuk’s renowned antics would keep him busy this year. “It will be good though. It will be fun.
“Sometimes we had (Marchand) get the boys fired up by stirring the pot on the ice. You need that sometimes to get you going. Especially in an 82-game schedule, it helps.”
The comparisons to Marchand – the game’s ultimate pest/superstar – have long been made about the 21-year-old Tkachuk, who certainly seems capable of reaching the superstar status of the Beantown Menace.
However, very soon no one will be more qualified to make that assessment than Lucic, who won a Stanley Cup alongside Marchand while also playing some of the best hockey of his life.
The spit disturber backed by the man who doesn’t take spit from anyone.
“Marchy is a winner and proven guy now – I think Tkachuk can be the same type of thing,” said Lucic, 31, thrilled to be rid of the pressure of being anything more than a good team guy, a nuclear deterrent and faithful soldier.
“(Tkachuk) just had 77 points as a 21-year old, which is impressive, and he helped this team take that next step and reach that 100-point plateau and win the division.
“It’s great to have him signed up, and I’m one of the guys excited to have him back to help us get back to where we were in the standings.
“The feedback I’ve got from all the guys so far is, ‘Yeah, he plays with an edge, but he’s a team-first guy.’”
So is ol’ Looch, whose assignment in Calgary is to help lads like Tkachuk, Sam Bennett, Johnny Gaudreau and others feel a little taller and a whole lot safer.
That Chesire cat grin Tkachuk often flashes behind his displaced mouthpiece when needling the opposition was forefront when asked about playing with Lucic.
“Very, very nice,” beamed Tkachuk of his human insurance policy. “He’s like one of the three guys in the league you know every single shift when he’s out there. Guys like him, (Tom) Wilson and (Zdeno) Chara. Those are my three guys when you play against them you know when they’re out there.
“Really nice to have him on our team – he’s going to be really great for some of us. It will be good.”
Good for the players, great for the fans who have been anticipating all summer long that Tkachuk could be the wind beneath Lucic’s considerable wing span.
“Ya, Chucky brings a lot of chirping and his own grit and I guess if that keeps Looch busy, I don’t know,” smiled Rasmus Andersson.
“For sure I think a lot of people in this league have a lot of respect for Looch, so I don’t think it will be more of a problem than he had with Connor (McDavid) or (Leon) Draisaitl.”
Grab your popcorn and get ready to tune in, Calgary — we’re about to find out.