Milan Lucic can’t say enough about his time in Calgary.
Yet, he understands why several of his former teammates have sought greener pastures.
“I’m really appreciative of my time there, as is my family,” said the 35-year-old bruiser of his four years with the Calgary Flames.
“It was rejuvenating for me.
“It made me love hockey again.
“The city, the fans, everything – it was great, I really enjoyed it.
“As a family, we really did embrace being Calgarians. We went to the mountains and everything we possibly could to be Calgarians.
“The teammates I had are some of the best I’ve ever had in my career.”
Yet, the Flames have made plenty of headlines the last two summers for the exodus of core players Matthew Tkachuk, Johnny Gaudreau and Tyler Toffoli, as well as the potential departures of Noah Hanifin, Elias Lindholm and Mikael Backlund.
In a wide-ranging interview on The Eric Francis Show, the man who recently re-signed with the Boston Bruins was asked why it’s a hard sell to get guys to play and stay in Calgary.
“I enjoyed it and embraced it and think it’s a great place to play and live, and when the chinook winds come through in the winter, it makes it real nice,” said the cerebral Vancouver native.
“When teams come in, it’s usually cold.
“Even though we all love the ’Dome, it’s old. That’s the main thing.
“It’s a smaller city, there’s not much going on other than the Flames.
“It’s not like on a day off you can go to an NBA game or an MLB game.
“The travel – it is tough travel.
“Again, just trying to give you an honest answer about what guys are thinking about.”
Lucic also spoke openly about contemplating retirement four years ago, finding his passion after a low point in his life, his emotional return to the team he won a Stanley Cup with, his thoughts on former coach Darryl Sutter’s approach, the atmosphere in the dressing room last year and the disappointment he leaves Calgary with:
Sportsnet: Take me back to your early days in Calgary, under coach Bill Peters, when you contemplated quitting the game.
Milan Lucic: It just wasn’t fun.
I came there and I wasn’t playing a lot. It was an odd situation. It was probably a low point in my life when I got there in 2019. It wasn’t until Geoff Ward took over (that) it was rejuvenating. Before that, I was never in key situations or moments, I felt like I didn’t even have a purpose to be on the team. I’d go home at night and say, ‘What’s the point of doing this is if it doesn’t make you happy anymore?’
But Geoff had me going again, and it started clicking, and I love it to this day.
As much as it was a low point, I think it’s something I needed to go through because it made me love and appreciate the game more than I did at that time.
You’ve heard the story of how I called Doug Armstrong (after this season) and asked if I could come to the world championships. It’s because I love the game as much as I do.
SN: How tough was it being a healthy scratch late last season?
ML: I wish there was a little more communication with it.
Was I upset? Obviously, I was upset. Nobody wants to be sat out. But I also understand where I am in my career.
Moving forward, if I get scratched next year, it’s not something I’ll be crazy upset about.
You take it like a pro and you move on and try to be better for it.
To be honest, I got better when I got back in. It’s something I needed.
It gave me that kick in the behind to get myself going again, because I needed to get going again.
SN: Speaking of communication under Darryl Sutter, was it a problem in the room?
ML: At the end of the day, I’m a huge Darryl Sutter fan.
Of all the coaches I’ve played for, I think he’s the best and smartest coach I’ve played for.
The way he breaks the game down, and the game plan he puts forward, I’ve never seen anyone do it the way he does. I think that’s why he has the wins and Stanley Cups he has.
But, you know, the communication part (chuckles) … it’s very interesting.
He’s very old-school and set in his ways, but I’ve only had a great experience with him.
SN: How much did player frustration with Sutter contribute to the team’s inability to live up to expectations?
ML: Obviously, there was a ton of frustration. You look at the stats and everything was there except for the wins.
We had, like, 80 posts. If half of those go in, who knows what happens as far as players, the organization and city?
I was frustrated, and everyone in the room was, because we felt we were a good team that could beat anyone.
Ultimately, that’s what we’ll be remembered for, as a high-expectation team that didn’t pull through.
It’s really unfortunate because it was a great group. It was a tight room, and a lot of the teammates really liked each other and liked being around one another.
SN: We used the term “heavy” to describe the dressing room last year. How would you describe it?
ML: Obviously, a lot of things happened, and when a lot of things happen …
You lose two guys who are premium players in the league, but gain guys who are premium players in the league and they’re trying to do their thing to fit in …
Everyone’s trying to do their best for the right reasons, but it was one of those things where everything that could go wrong did go wrong.
SN: Why should people have faith in the job Ryan Huska will do as head coach?
ML: I think Husk is great.
He’s done his time, coming up through the Dub and the AHL and into the NHL.
One thing that’s really great about Ryan is he’s coached under a lot of coaches, and he got to learn from a lot of really good coaches and great people.
I think he’ll bring his own angle to it and I think he’s going to be great.
I think he has an understanding of what that locker room needs and what they need to do to turn it around and get it going again.
At the end of the day, he’s a really good person. I’ve always enjoyed being around him and I wish him nothing but the best.
I think he’s got a great guy with my former linemate, Marc Savard, coming in and helping him out as an assistant with the power play.
I’m excited to see how he’s going to do, and I wish him nothing but the best.
SN: How excited are you to be Bruin again?
ML: I spent eight years there, was drafted there and won a championship there. To have this opportunity to go back – I don’t even know if there’s words that express it.
Being able to go back to a place like Boston means everything to me.
My two daughters were born there but it’s been eight years – my kids don’t know me as a Bruin. So, the fact they can see me that way means a lot to me too.
I can’t wait to put on the black and gold again.
I’m just really thankful to go where I could be me again.
SN: Is it sad to see the band break up?
ML: It always breaks up. It’s always going to break up.
For me, personally, the one thing I am disappointed in is that the group couldn’t do more than we could have. That just sucks.
Especially the season before, when we lost to Edmonton.
It’s always sad to see it go, but it’s something I’ve learned in my career is that it’s something that always happens.