Over the past few seasons, several members of the 2011 Boston Bruins team that won the Stanley Cup or the 2013 one that reached the Final have returned to TD Garden wearing a sweater without an eight-spoked B on the chest. It’s always a nice moment, a chance for the Bruins and their fans to show their appreciation in the form of a video tribute, a hearty ovation or both.
Beloved bruiser Shawn Thornton, for example, received a standing O in his first trip back to Causeway Street. Fourth-line grinder Gregory Campbell did, as well. Both players were key contributors on some of the most successful Bruins teams of the past two decades, and the Garden faithful recognized them as such.
But perhaps no player deserves as much recognition as the one who will celebrate his Boston homecoming Tuesday night: Milan Lucic, whose eight-year Bruins tenure came to an end this past summer when the B’s shipped him to the Los Angeles Kings for a package of goalie Martin Jones, the 13th overall draft pick and current Boston defenseman Colin Miller.
Lucic, a second-round pick of the Bruins in 2006 who became an NHL mainstay without playing a single game in the minors, embodied the physical style of hockey that was the calling card of those those Cup-contending Bruins teams.
“If you want to use the term ‘big, bad Bruins,’ he was the definition of that, and a rare breed,” Bruins defenseman Adam McQuaid told reporters Monday, via BostonBruins.com. “He?s a guy who can get 30 goals and still fight the toughest guys in the league. So, there?s not too many guys like that. It?s a pretty rare combination.”
During his time with the Bruins, Lucic was, for lack of a better word, a beast. A simple glance at his 2010-11 stat line is evidence of that: He led the Cup-winning B’s in both goals and hits and fell one penalty minute shy of the team lead in that category, too.
It was this hyper-aggressive, bulldozing, no-holds-barred style of play that made the big winger an instant favorite of fans and teammates alike.
?He?s been such a good player for us that?s been part of the success that we?ve had here in the past,? Bruins coach Claude Julien told reporters. ?He didn?t leave here on bad terms. He left here because of the situation, and he?s got a lot of friends in that dressing room, including us as a coaching staff, who always liked Milan.
“… Shortly after he was traded — and I mean shortly after — he reached out to me to thank me. He thanked the fans. So, there was no animosity on his part, and there was none on our part, either. So, it will be nice to see him — Milan Lucic the person — and hopefully, by the end of it, we?re a happy team.?
Lucic also thanked Bruins fans in a lengthy open letter published Monday on The Players’ Tribune. And while the Bruins currently have no players who can replicate Lucic’s blend of production and physicality — offseason acquisition Matt Beleskey comes closest — Julien has to be happy with the fact that, after the mass exodus of this past summer, his team sits a tiebreaker out of second place in the Atlantic Division more than 50 games into its season.
Thumbnail photo via Tom Szczerbowski/USA TODAY Sports Images