Some of his former Bruins teammates have only recently rediscovered their body rhythms after their preseason trip to China. Milan Lucic is still battling the effects of the Oilers’ excursion to Germany and Sweden.
“I went to sleep after the eighth of the Red Sox game,” said Lucic. “Didn’t see the ninth. Probably saved some years of my life, not watching that.”
Yes, Lucic, an ardent sports fan, still keeps up with the Red Sox. He still watches the Celtics, particularly in the playoffs. He’s a Patriots fan through and through.
As for the Bruins, it’s a bit more complicated.
Make no mistake: It’s all love with Looch, who returns here Thursday for the fourth time in his post-Boston career. Some of his old teammates remain close friends. The Stanley Cup they won together in 2011 made strong bonds all but unbreakable.
But Lucic, 30, has found his past to be both a blessing and a burden, since a turbulent stretch in 2015 that included a June 26, 2015, trade to the Kings.
After signing a seven-year, $42 million deal in Edmonton two summers ago — a deal that will last until he’s 35 — Lucic posted a respectable 23-27—50 line and was a threat on the power play. But last year was arguably the worst of his career, with just 10 goals and 24 assists in 82 games. His seven goals at even strength tied a career low. He went from 12 power-play goals to three, and his shooting percentage plummeted from 13.1 to 6.8 percent.
“Maybe when I struggled I started getting a little too hard on myself,” he said after Wednesday’s practice at Warrior Ice Arena. “Sometimes there were times where when you look at the contract you signed, sometimes you try too hard to live up to things.
“There were times I feel maybe I was looking too much into things I couldn’t control, team dynamics that I couldn’t control, holding onto things and letting things get to me more than I used to.”
It wasn’t just hockey. Lucic openly speaks about his struggles with the death of his father, Dobrivoje “Dobro” Lucic, who committed suicide April 22, 2015. He hopes that by confronting it publicly, he can help people see that “dealing with it is not a weakness.”
Therapy was part of Lucic’s offseason training.
Lucic, who has three children with his wife, Brittany (daughters Valentina and Nikolina and son Milan Jr., born in May), feels he is “thinking positively, thinking optimistically, having fun going to the gym, working hard, looking forward to challenges,” he said.
“When you struggle at times, you do revert to the past, especially when you’ve had success. Sometimes you say to yourself, ‘I wish I was still here, I wish I was still there.’
“I didn’t want to have those feelings anymore. It wasn’t fair to myself. It wasn’t fair to my teammates, most importantly. I wanted to [be] in the present.”
A good start: The hulking left winger picked up a power-play goal and an assist in Edmonton’s first game of the year, a 5-2 loss to New Jersey in Gothenburg, Sweden.
“I know they lost, but he looked really good,” said his former longtime linemate, David Krejci. “We’re friends forever. We’re still pretty close. I love that guy. He’s such good people.
“He was beloved here by fans and his teammates. He did so much for this organization.”
Lucic is 5-1 against his old team, beating the Bruins twice with the Kings and three times with the Oilers. He’s dipping into the fond memories of his eight years in Boston to help this year’s group.
Old habits die hard.
“I mentioned it a lot, what that did for us from a team standpoint,” he said. “Being in a place where we’re forced to hang out with one another, the team camaraderie starts off on a high note to start the year.
“We were joking, we’re almost sick of having team dinners now. We’ve had six of them in the last two weeks.”
Last year’s Oilers (36-40-6) were out of the playoff race by December. Lucic knows competitive clubs don’t let losses linger. He had an example at the ready.
“The Bruins lost, 7-0, the first game and they’ve won [two] straight since,” Lucic said. “That’s the sign of a good team. We have to find a way to do the same thing and jump on a team that’s playing well.”