Lucic becoming Mr. Popular

MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:13 AM ET

BOSTON -- No one wanted to be Milan Lucic's roommate.

The engaging Boston Bruins rookie had just broken his large nose, causing the volume of his snoring spells at night to practically crumble the plaster in his hotel rooms.

"Yeah, that really happened," the Vancouver native said, adding that he understood why his teammates didn't want to bunk with him during that brief period of the regular season.

It may have been the only time all season that Milan Lucic was unpopular with anyone in this town.

Still just 19, Lucic is developing a cult following in Boston, working his way to becoming a sporting icon in one of North America's top sports towns.

"Honestly, I think he already is," Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli admitted Sunday, just minutes after his team had posted a dramatic 2-1 overtime victory over the Montreal Canadiens at the TD Banknorth Garden.

Playing his first NHL post-season game in front of the home fans, the 6-foot-4, 220-pound steamroller had scored the opening goal, received a boarding penalty for wallpapering a Habs defenceman into the boards, and crushed two or three other Canadiens, all within the game's first seven minutes.

For blue-collar Bruins boosters, who have worshipped lunch-pail warriors such as Terry O'Reilly and Cam Neely over the years, Lucic already has become Mr. Popularity.

Each time he touched the puck, chants of "Louuuuuuuuu" rained down from the rafters of the Garden.

"That's so cool," Lucic said. "Obviously it feels great. It gets me excited. You always want to be a fan favourite.

"My coach in junior with the Vancouver Giants, Don Hay, always said you should feed off the crowd."

The emergence of Lucic could not come at a better time for the Bruins.

It is hardly a secret that the once popular Big Bad Bruins were in danger of becoming an afterthought in this town, a fading blip on the New England sporting radar behind the Red Sox, Patriots, Celtics and college sports.

Now the emergence of Lucic, who can drop the gloves and score the odd goal, at least provides the Bruins with some publicity the team desperately needs, not to mention his contributions on the ice.

"He has been their best player," said Canadiens coach Guy Carbonneau, whose team holds a 2-1 lead in this best-of-seven Eastern Conference quarter-final heading into Game 4 tonight. "I like the way he plays. He brings energy, he hits, but he's not dirty."

Lucic admits the experience of captaining Team Canada during last summer's junior Summit Series against Russia helped him mature and learn leadership skills. It's just another step in his climb to becoming an impact player, both on the ice and in the hearts of the fans.

"They love him because of the way he plays the game," Neely, now a member of the Bruins front office, said last night. "He works hard, he uses the body, there is nothing fabricated about his game. That's what people in this town want to see."

When Lucic was 15, his mother noticed his posture was poor. It was discovered that he suffers from Scheuermann's disease, a condition that, while painless, causes the upper back to curve.

While it doesn't effect his play, the disease causes him to stoop and round his shoulders. On one occasion in junior, Kyle Beach, a forward projected to go in the Top 10 in the that year's entry draft, suggested he looked like a hunchback. Several games later, Lucic beat up Beach.

Bruins fans wouldn't have it any other way.


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