In this exclusive sit down, the burly Oilers winger talks about adjusting to life in Edmonton, his early hockey career, what it's like to be teammates with Connor McDavid and his friendship with Wayne Gretzky.

Sportsnet: Anything in particular you want to talk about?
Milan Lucic: Ah, no.

OK. Is your family gearing up for the holidays? Is anyone coming to visit?
My in-laws, and we’re actually spending this Christmas down in Lake Louise, in the ice castles. I have two daughters — one’s going to be five in January, the other one’s two and a half — so we tell them we’re going to Elsa’s ice castles [from Frozen]. Should make for a fun Christmas.

Nice. Are you going to dress up as one of the characters?
Probably not. [Laughs.]

Maybe think about it?
I’ll think about it.

You could be…what’s the snowman’s name?

I’m glad you knew that. How about your childhood — you were one of three boys, right? That must’ve been chaotic.
It was, I think my parents definitely had their hands full with the three of us, brothers doing brotherly things. Lot of fights, a lot of high energy. But the one thing I will say, we didn’t break a lot of things in the house, because we knew we’d get the beat-down if we broke anything special. After the first time, it didn’t happen again.

Did you get in fights in the schoolyard?
To be honest, not really.

That’s surprising. Sorry, is that rude?
[Laughs] No, I think that would surprise a lot of people because of how I play on the ice. I never really picked on anyone and I never really got picked on either, for obvious reasons.

You were never even a little small for your age, at any point?
No, never. I wasn’t always the biggest kid in the class but I was always top five.

It’s tough to picture you being lanky.
Oh, I was lanky. I wasn’t big and bulky my whole life. I was lanky for a while, and I got along with everyone, too. I was kind of a social guy in class. My teachers would get mad at me for talking too much, so they put me with the quiet kid, and then I ended up being friends with and talking to the quiet kid. That’s the kind of kid I was in school.

Good student?
Average. Unless I was really interested in it, I didn’t apply myself as well as I could have. My focus was on hockey and sports. I put all my eggs in one basket and thankfully it worked out.

Right, but you did almost quit hockey.
Yes, I did. Just because, when I was 15, 16, I got passed up in the WHL bantam draft and then I got cut by a few junior teams…

Did you cry?
I did cry after I didn’t get drafted. And there was one camp in particular, when I thought I was one of the best players and they told me that I was cut. I was 16 years old, it was with the Coquitlam Express. And it’s funny, two weeks later they called me back and said they made a mistake and then invited me back to the main camp, and that’s when everything kind of started going this way [he points up]. I ended up making the Express and then moving on to the Vancouver Giants and then everything else came after that. The roller-coaster ride started in the summer of ’04, when I was 16.

What would you be doing today if you had quit?
I probably would be doing what my dad did, and my older brother was doing. They were longshoremen in Vancouver. I probably would have followed those footsteps.

And you wouldn’t have quite the relationship you do now with your hometown.
No, it’d be way different. And the sad part is, I had such a great relationship with my hometown, all the way up to the summer of 2011. You even look at when I hoisted the Stanley Cup in Vancouver, I would say 90 per cent of the fans stuck around to cheer me on as the hometown boy. I still appreciate a lot of the people there, but the love is not the same. It all changed just because we beat the Canucks in the final.

I guess that’s the passion of that fan base.
Yeah, and I understand it, growing up a Canucks fan. But at the end of the day, it’s not like I planned for the Boston Bruins to select me in the NHL draft instead of the Vancouver Canucks, and I planned it four years down the road that we were going to play each other in the final, and I was going to hoist it in Vancouver. It’s just something that happened, right? And I’m thankful and fortunate and appreciative that it happened that way. I know for my family, too, they enjoyed the fact that we got to do it on Vancouver soil. There was eight of us there that night: me, my grandparents, my parents, my two brothers, my uncle, my wife — girlfriend at the time. We had such an awesome night.

Where is your Stanley Cup ring?
It’s here in Edmonton, in a safe.

That’s good. Did you go that route because your Memorial Cup ring was stolen?
Oh yeah. I don’t even keep it at the house — I keep it in a safe, safe.

Where was your Memorial Cup ring when it was taken?
It was in the kitchen at my parent’s house, in a drawer that honestly no one ever went into. By chance this person went in that drawer and found something.

You got a replacement, though, right?
I did. I actually wore it for the first time this summer because we had a 10-year reunion; 21 out of the 24 guys that were a part of that team ended up showing up. We had an awesome time for two days.

What do you remember about that game-winning play in the Memorial Cup Final? You assisted on it.
I believe it was a wrap-around. And I just remember that puck going in and it was almost a sigh of relief because we were outshooting and outplaying Medicine Hat that day, and when we scored to make it 2-1, we were so excited and relieved that, ‘all right, we’re gonna win this game.’ That’s exactly what happened.

What about your first NHL game — what do you remember about that?
I remember it was in Dallas. I remember being nervous and stepping on the ice and looking over and seeing Mike Modano skating around with his hair [laughs] and the flow that he was known for, and even his jersey [Lucic pulls at the back of his shirt, mimicking the way Modano untucked the back]. I think I only played five and a half minutes that game and got into a fight, and we lost the game 4-1. But It was this cool experience. It’s funny, as time goes on you forget more and more games but you never really forget that first one.

Was the plan, ‘OK, I’m going to fight tonight’?
Yeah, [laughs.] I mean, being on the fourth line, you know you weren’t going to play much so you wanted to do something to get on the stats sheet, you know?

And you were living at a hotel back then.
I was. I’m not gonna lie, it was pretty miserable being in a hotel for two and a half months before they told us we were on the team. Me and David Krejci were in a hotel.

Was the transition moving to Edmonton easier? Or tougher, considering you have a family now?
It was tough, especially coming from L.A., being in a climate like that and in a city like that, also the set-up they had, it was pretty awesome. You’re coming to a place where it’s a lot more small town.

I’ve always lived in a place where it’s kinda been go, go, go. You’re used to a lot of people, you’re used to a lot of traffic, fast-paced type of living. And you come here and It’s a complete 180. It actually took me a lot of time. I got here in September, it probably took me until middle of February to get used to things around here. The transition from Boston to L.A. didn’t take as long.

Did you ask teammates for advice about where to live? Did Wayne Gretzky help?
No, the house that we ended up buying, one of my best friends is Johnny Boychuk, and he’s from Edmonton. He actually found the house for us.

Oh, he was your realtor. Did he get a commission, or…
No, [laughs] but we used his realtor. It ended up working out. And also, one of my real good friends is Andrew Ference — I played with him for six years and he lives here now, and he helped me with the adjustment as well.

Did Wayne Gretzky call you and tell you to come play for Edmonton — is that the story?
When you go through the UFA process, there’s a lot of people calling you.

It must be flattering.
It was flattering, for sure. So there’s a lot of people calling you and telling you what the organization is like and what it’s like to play there and all that. Wayne was one of the guys that reached out to me before I made my decision. It was a pretty cool conversation to have and pretty cool now to call him a friend.

Really, he’s your friend?
Oh yeah, we get to see him a lot and I’ve gotten to pick his brain a lot. It’s pretty cool to be around his presence as much as we are here as Oilers players.

After he called did you immediately save his number in your phone?

What did you save him as?
Umm, Wayne Gretzky.

Not The Great One?
[Laughs.] I don’t do nicknames in my phone. There’s so many, they’d be hard to find.

Anything in particular you learned from him?
What his time was like here, what his approach to the game was, what experiences he had off the ice, how the camaraderie between the boys was, those types of things. You like to hear those old-school stories.

This season obviously hasn’t started well. Is there a feeling in here that it can turn around, considering the talent in this room?
For sure. Our game is trending in the right direction and we’re starting to play the way we did last year. It’s just about the getting the bounces and that type of stuff. When you take care of the process and play the right way, the result will start taking care of itself.

Do you find you talk about Connor McDavid every day?
Just because people ask me about him all the time.

I was trying not to.
It’s not just you guys, reporters. Also family and friends, they all want to know what he’s like, they all want to know how he is in practice, his skills and all that. I’m sure it’s the same way for all those Pittsburgh guys when Sidney Crosby started over there. It just happens when you play with one of the best players in the league.

What’s your favourite non-hockey related thing about him?

It’s all hockey?
It’s tough. As much as you get to know your teammates, and as much as I’ve gotten to know Connor, a lot of the times I’m at home hanging out with my wife and kids so I don’t do all the fun outside stuff that he and the other young guys do. You hear about them going go-karting. They try to do stuff to keep themselves busy here in Edmonton. I’m busy parenting and watching princess movies and playing. But I guess that’s it: You like to hear the fact that he goes out here and there and is not afraid to be a 20-year-old once in a while.

Did you experience that in Boston?
Yeah for sure. It was a lot easier, though, especially when you’re one of four sports teams and there’s a lot of other things going on as well. Where here it’s, you know, the Oilers are it.

Since we’re getting toward the end of 2017, if you could make a couple of New Year’s resolutions for you and this team, what’s on the list?
[Laughs.] The normal ones: Stop texting and driving. Because, I mean, everyone does it. People can say that they don’t do it but I know everyone does it. And win some more hockey games. That’d be it.

Photo Credits

Vincent Ethier/Icon Sportswire/Getty Images; Chris Relke/Getty Images; CP PHOTO/Chuck Stoody; Brian Babineau/NHLI/ Getty Images; Derek Cain/Icon Sportswire/Getty Images
Design by Drew Lesiuczok