His shoulders are wide, his fists ferocious, and his memory as strong as his steely biceps. Try to quiz Milan Lucic on his recall, and the Los Angeles Kings’ hulking left winger fires back answers with the alacrity and acumen of a pocket-calculator-toting marksman.
What the Amazing Kreskin is to telepathy and clairvoyance, Milan the Magnificent is to summoning stats and facts, especially related to sports. During his days with the Bruins, Lucic’s keen memory sometimes caused his Black and Gold teammates to shake their heads.
“It’s definitely something I’ve never seen before,’’ said Brad Marchand, marveling at Lucic’s cognitive gifts last spring, prior to Lucic’s being dealt to the Kings, who visit the Garden Tuesday night. “And what amazes me is, he can tell me things about me that I don’t even remember or don’t even know . . . It’s unbelievable.’’
As an example, Marchand noted Lucic’s ability to recall some of Marchand’s stats from a decade ago, including before the two faced off against one another as 17-year-olds in the Memorial Cup, the Canadian junior hockey championship. When the two reunited as Bruins teammates years later, Lucic regurgitated some of Marchand’s stats from the Memorial Cup, as well as some of the Little Ball of Hate’s numbers prior to that season.
Much of all that, Marchand said, had faded from his own memory.
“Like how many penalty minutes I had, or whatever,’’ offered an impressed Marchand. “And he can honestly go through every guy in the league at that time and tell you every stat. It’s incredible.’’
“And it doesn’t just involve hockey,’’ added then Bruin Daniel Paille, who figured Lucic must possess a photographic-like memory. “It’s with all sports — and when you [hear] him talk about it, you kind of give yourself a look and wonder how he knows.’’
Lucic, 27, isn’t quite sure of the source of his gift. While noting he did not excel as a student during his high school days in Vancouver, he says he always had strong math and music skills. The latter manifested in a love of the saxophone, which he played for six years, including stints with his high school concert and jazz bands.
“I always really loved music,’’ said Lucic, who arrived in town with 12 goals and 30 points in 50 games this season. “You can say what you want. . . . You know, people say, ‘band geeks’ and all that, but I was just a guy that loved music, and I enjoyed it. I was more of a guy into knowing the rhythm of things, and I was really good at keeping a beat.’’
Lucic is convinced the two are connected, feeling his memory for sports stats and his mind for music are located in the same part of his brain. He hasn’t played the sax in nearly 10 years but feels he would need no more than an hour to get it all back, allowing maybe 30 minutes “to get the notes down” and another 30 to refamiliarize himself with instrument, tone, and breathing.
“It’s kind of like riding a bike, right?’’ he said. “Especially because I learned it at such a young age; it gets imprinted.’’
According to Dr. Alvaro Pascual-Leone, a Harvard neurology professor and a chief in cognitive neurology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, the music-memory link isn’t as direct as Lucic and others might often think.
“The brain structures involved in learning a musical instrument and remembering an event are different, with different parts of the brain involved,’’ Pascual-Leone said. “But it is indeed the case that music — learning music and musical instruments — supports and promotes memory in general. So there is a link there, and that might be what he notices.
“To the question is [memory] an in-born skill or is it something that one can train, there is a suggestion that while people have certain talents to begin with, that you can train memory skills. And some of the things that can be useful in that regard include music.’’
Put to the test
To probe Lucic’s memory, a Globe reporter last spring quizzed him on random stats from his playing career over the last 10-plus years, including his first season (2004-05) of junior hockey with the Coquitlam Express. He was not briefed prior to the experiment, held after a practice in Wilmington, thus removing the possibility that he crammed for the exam.
“I don’t keep lists,’’ Lucic said, noting he doesn’t so much as make out a shopping list for trips to the grocery store. “I just do it all by memory. I know what I need. No list. And I don’t plan anything, either. I just get up and go.’’
Lucic accurately recalled his own stats (nine goals, 23 points, 100 penalty minutes) for his season at Coquitlam and with ease noted that Brandon Yip and Mark Soares were the club’s leading scorers, and Kiel Sonne led in penalty minutes. When a reporter mistakenly referred to Mike Ladd as the club’s leading goalie, Lucic pounced on the mistake, giving due credit to No. 1 stopper Ryan Dutton.
“And Wyatt Russell was the backup,’’ Lucic said. “Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn’s son, by the way.’’
Lucic with equal ease recalled the players picked immediately before and after him in the 2006 NHL Draft, when the Bruins chose him 50th overall. Joey Ryan (Los Angeles) and Ben Maxwell (Montreal) went 48 and 49, respectively, Lucic recalled. Nigel Williams went 51st to Colorado, Lucic able to recall only the player’s first name, but then correctly recalling that Keith Seabrook went No. 52 to Washington.
“And I can almost name the top 10 of that draft, too,’’ he added.
Lucic then correctly clicked off the first nine players in the 2006 draft, pausing only slightly before recalling the Bruins chose Phil Kessel at No. 5. He then rattled off Nos. 6, 7, 8, and 9 without a hitch, then mistakenly named Bryan Little at No. 10 instead of Michael Frolik. Score: 9 out of 10, for a draft that took place 10 years ago.
Pascual-Leone said that the type of memory Lucic exhibits — which he categorized as episodic and autobiographical or biographical in nature — often is reinforced by emotional circumstances. Draft day is typically emotionally charged for most players.
“When you are drafted, I am sure that is a big deal,” Pascual-Leone said. “For him that had to be quite the day. The events that are particularly salient, our ability to remember things from those salient moments is greater.’’
Pascual-Leone was impressed by Lucic’s memory skills — known to him only through the Globe’s brief informal probe. A scientist, he said, would want to set up a more controlled examination to offer a more specific informed opinion.
“If there had been no refreshing or reexposure to these memories,’’ Pascual-Leone said, “yes, to be able to be able to pull this type of information, on call, as it were, to access this type of information is quite remarkable, absolutely.’’
Lucic was equally impressive when recalling his numbers and those of teammates during his two years with the Vancouver Giants, where he played his final amateur hockey before turning pro with the Bruins in October 2007.
He wore sweater No. 62 with the Bruins through training camp and to start the NHL season, then switched to No. 17 once being told he would not be sent back to the Giants.
He learned the news he would not go back to junior, Lucic recalled, when he was sitting in coach Claude Julien’s office at the club’s Wilmington practice facility. Peter Chiarelli, then the club’s GM, gave him the word.
“He told me that I was going to remain on the team for the rest of the year,’’ Lucic recalled with a rookielike enthusiasm, pointing toward Julien’s office. “And my first question back to him was, ‘Could I change my number?’ ’’
After rattling off other stats from his rookie season, including his own and those of a few teammates, Lucic then without hesitation provided the names of each player that season who wore No. 56 (Petteri Nokelainen), 10 (Brandon Bochenski), 34 (Shane Hnidy), and 13 (Glen Metropolit). Lucic did it so effortlessly, they might as well have been standing in front of him in full uniform.
Former Bruins defenseman Andrew Ference, impressed by Lucic’s mental skills and his love to share stats and current NHL news, pinned the moniker “Bob’’ on the big left winger. It was in homage to Bob McKenzie, the Toronto-based reporter long considered the No. 1 source of NHL news throughout Canada.
In the Bruins’ dressing room, if you wanted to know what was happening, just ask ol’ Bob Lucic.
“You know, I don’t embrace that whatsoever,’’ said Lucic, a bit annoyed but mostly amused by the nickname. “Andrew Ference was trying to be funny one day. I respect what [McKenzie] does. He’s one of the best insiders . . . but I don’t embrace that.’’
Ever the insider, word of the nickname long ago reached the affable McKenzie in Canada.
“Yes, I saw a tweet, I think maybe by Ference, that [Lucic] has this so-called encyclopedic knowledge,’’ McKenzie acknowledged.
Sometime later, McKenzie recalled, he discussed it with Lucic, the left-winger-turned-hockey-insider.
“Just a brief exchange,’’ McKenzie said, “and I said, ‘Milan, I’m glad you can do what I can do, because I know I can’t do what you do.’ ’’