A lot has changed since the last time Milan Lucic donned a black-and-gold sweater.
The 35-year-old winger is no stranger to the friendly confines of TD Garden after logging eight NHL campaigns in Boston.
But learning the ins and outs of Warrior Ice Arena — Boston’s practice facility unveiled a year after Lucic was dealt to the Kings — is another story.
“When I came here the first day on Wednesday, I had to figure out how to get in this place,” Lucic said Friday. “But obviously [it’s] real nice to be back in the Bruins’ colors and skating with all the guys again. So a couple of days here to end off the week into the weekend and excited for everything to get going here.”
The facilities at Warrior represent a significant facelift from Lucic’s once-familiar surroundings at Ristuccia Arena. But the Bruins’ practice rink is far from the only seismic shift within the organization that Lucic will need to acclimate to.
After eight seasons spent in Los Angeles, Edmonton, and Calgary, Lucic has noted multiple times after putting pen to paper on his one-year contract with Boston that he’s “coming home.”
But in Boston’s dressing room, Lucic only has scattered relics of the rosters he routinely helped anchor from 2007-15.
Gone are franchise stalwarts like Zdeno Chara, Tuukka Rask, David Krejci, and Patrice Bergeron.
Once a fresh-faced rookie who ingratiated himself to Bruins fans with glass-shattering checks and thunderous hooks, Lucic will be tasked with similar duties in 2023-24 — just as one of the elder statesmen on the roster.
“I had to throw a little jab at him and tell him he is the oldest guy on the team now,” Lucic said of 35-year-old Brad Marchand. “Because he does have me by a month.”
Lucic is no longer the top-six stalwart whose snarl was routinely matched by his propensity to pot goals in Grade-A ice. He’ll likely be asked to add some heft to Boston’s checking unit on this revamped roster.
But beyond the number of hits delivered and goals accrued, Lucic plans on stepping into a greater role on a leadership hierarchy that lost some of its top voices this summer.
“When you lose guys, there’s opportunity for other guys to step into certain roles. And for me, obviously, I think it’s more of a leadership role, physical role, and just being myself on a day to day basis,” Lucic explained. “And those are the talks that I had with the management group and the coaching staff, and most of all just bring what I bring on a day to day basis. And that’s having fun, being in the NHL, but also when it’s go time, it’s go time.”
Even with the departures of many fixtures both on the ice and in the room, Lucic believes the current turnover felt within the Bruins is a transition that all NHL clubs must undergo, including some of the earlier Bruins clubs he played for.
“When I got here, we had the best defenseman with Zdeno,” Lucic noted. “Then you had young guys like myself, Krech and eventually Marshy. You can even throw Bergy in that mix. Because he’s not that much older than me and Krech. We were young guys pushing the older guys. The older guys were in their prime, doing their thing.”
Even though Lucic may no longer be in his prime, he believes he has more to give to the team he forged many memories with over the years.
The Bruins might be charting a new chapter this season in the wake of Bergeron and Krejci’s retirement, but Lucic believes that the identity and culture cultivated by those pivots isn’t going to wane any time soon.
“I think for me that’s probably one of the biggest things coming back, is to keep that culture and that identity, I guess, going in this locker room,” Lucic said. “When you lose guys, like those leaders, it gives other guys like myself an opportunity to step up and carry the torch. So, I think that’s a big part of my job this year coming in. And like I said, you got to have fun with it, you got to look forward to it even though it’s a big responsibility.”
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