The days are ticking down. With Jan. 7 set as the roster deadline for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, there is not much time remaining for Milan Lucic — or any other Team Canada hopeful — to impress the management team that will make the final decisions.
It’s something that Lucic says he hasn’t spent much time on, even with just 11 days to go. Well, sort of.
“Honestly, I haven’t really thought too too much about it,” Lucic said Monday. “Just like before, trying to play my game. Obviously with it coming down to crunch time, I guess you could say we do think about, OK, are you going to be on it? Are you not going to be on it? If you have the break, what are you going to do during the break? And if not, you get to go be in the Olympics.
“That’s probably what I’ve thought about more than anything.”
It might be a little too late for Lucic to make a stand for a spot in Sochi. The Bruins left winger started out hot, with seven goals and 13 points in the first 14 games of the season, continuing the production he had started in last season’s playoffs and erasing the memories of his difficult 2012-13 regular season.
He had been invited to the Team Canada orientation camp in Calgary in August, and despite the concerns about his skating on the bigger surface of an international rink, it looked as if Steve Yzerman and Team Canada might be forced to take a longer and harder look at Lucic.
But December has not been so kind to him, at least in terms of points. Lucic has just one goal in the month, which came against Buffalo last Saturday, and overall he stands at 12 goals and 26 points in 37 games.
“This month, for myself personally, probably as far as production goes, it hasn’t been probably the best month, but I don’t think they’re going to go purely on the stats of what guys, how many goals and assists guys have,” Lucic said. “They’re going to try to make the best team that they think is going to win a gold medal and hopefully for myself I’m a part of that puzzle.”
That’s something that Bruins coach Claude Julien, who will be in charge of the penalty kill for Team Canada in Sochi, echoed recently. To win gold, Team Canada will need the right mix, not just the players with the most goals and most assists. And the question is whether they want or need someone with the physical presence of Lucic, a true power forward.
“You’re down to dealing with bubble players and having to make those decisions,” Julien said. “Sometimes it’s not about the best players on a team, it’s about taking the players that are going to make the best team. We have to look at it that way as well.”
Lucic has demonstrated again this season that he needs to keep his feet moving to be successful. That makes a significant difference in speed, for which he has gotten a sometimes unfair reputation.
Especially considering his less productive last month, Lucic is doing his best to focus not on February but on the NHL season as a whole — not on Team Canada, but on the Bruins.
Asked if he might be putting more pressure on himself of late — something that seemed to get him in trouble last season — Lucic said, “Yeah, I think so. It’s hard not to. I’d be lying to you if I said no.
“You do start putting pressure on yourself because you want to produce and you want to contribute with goals and assists and points and results, but it’s funny for me — every time I’ve kind of just focused on the other stuff, that stuff seems to happen more so.
“So I think right now I think that’s where my mind needs to be at, is kind of worry about the other stuff. Keep my feet moving, get in on the forecheck, be hard on the puck. Just getting that shot going whenever I have the chance like I did [against Buffalo] and hopefully it’ll start going in for me to end this month and I can look forward to finish off this year on a high note and then have it carry on to the start of the next year.”
And maybe even slip into an Olympic spot.
Fortunately for him (at least he hopes) is the fact that Julien and Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli are part of Team Canada.
Lucic said he has not talked to them about the roster, has not picked their brains. He has, however, taken their advice this season.
“They just want me to play my game, play the best to my abilities, and hopefully they go to bat for me when it comes to picking the team,” he said.
Their knowledge, though, could be both good and bad. They are aware of all of his strengths, having watched him for years. They are also aware of his weaknesses.
“It’s more of a good thing because they know,” Lucic said. “They’ve watched me now for 6½ years and they know what they’re going to get. Like I said, hopefully it’s good enough to fit in the puzzle.”Amalie Benjamin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @amaliebenjamin.