VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- Maybe it's fate that brought Milan Lucic back home for the Stanley Cup finals.
Game 1 between the Boston Bruins and Vancouver Canucks is Wednesday at Rogers Arena, only miles from where Lucic grew up playing hockey. He was drafted by the Bruins in 2006 and won a Memorial Cup with the Vancouver Giants in 2007. The player Lucic is most compared to, Bruins president Cam Neely, grew up in nearby Comox, British Columbia, and started his NHL career with the Vancouver Canucks.
Think about this crazy connection between Neely, Lucic and Vancouver. On June 6, 1986, Neely was traded to Boston along with a first-round pick that was used to take Glen Wesley in the 1987 draft. On Aug. 26, 1994, Wesley was traded to the Hartford Whalers for three first-round draft picks (1995, 1996 and 1997). That 1997 pick was used to select Sergei Samsonov. On March 9, 2006, Samsonov was traded from Boston to the Edmonton Oilers for Marty Reasoner, Yan Stastny and a second-round pick in the 2006 draft that was used to select none other than Lucic.
When he was told that the anniversary of Neely's trade to Boston is June 6 (the day of Game 3), which happens to be Neely's birthday and the day before Lucic's birthday, Lucic told the giant scrum of reporters around his table at media day Tuesday an interesting story.
"That's funny, because when my dad first immigrated to Canada, he went to a Canucks game with his buddy, and he remembered seeing this No. 21 [Neely was No. 21 with Canucks] skating around, and all of a sudden he got in a fight and he scored and did what he did," Lucic recalled.
"My dad was like, 'Oh my God, who's this guy?' And it ended up being Cam. And I remember as a kid, he said to me -- I didn't really know who Cam Neely was other than in 'Dumb and Dumber' -- but he said to me, 'If one day there's any player that you want to be like, then this is the one guy you want to be like.' It's pretty cool I remember that as a kid, and here we are today -- I'm a part of the Boston Bruins and he's a part of it, too."
In 1988 and 1990, Neely helped lead the Bruins to the Stanley Cup finals but Boston fell short, losing to the Edmonton Oilers both times. Now Lucic, who is the equivalent of Neely to this generation of Bruins fans, is returning to his hometown to try to provide his mentor and the Bruins that elusive Stanley Cup, which Boston hasn't won since 1972.
"[Neely] says to go out there, lay everything on the line and play like there's no tomorrow," Lucic said. "In the end you want to have no regrets. I think we've heard him say it. If there's one thing he could have done while he played, it would have been to win a Stanley Cup. Here we are with the opportunity to do that, and to win it with him would be very special."
What's even more special for Lucic is the chance to play for the Cup in front of his family and friends in the city he calls home and a city that he has had a good deal of success in, including a three-point night in a 3-1 Bruins win on Feb. 26.
"To just be in a Stanley Cup final is special. But to be in my hometown just makes it that much more extra special," Lucic said. "I played junior hockey and won a Memorial Cup here. [The Memorial Cup] probably stands out the most, winning it at home in the [Pacific] Coliseum right next to where I started skating as a little kid.
"I was drafted by the Bruins here. I'm definitely grateful I was selected by them. We had arguably our best win of the regular season against the Canucks. It seems like in some ways this was almost destined to happen."
While Lucic obviously doesn't want to see the Canucks end their 40-year Stanley Cup drought with their first Cup in franchise history, he does appreciate the passion of Canucks fans and Bruins fans alike.
"I know growing up here that the Canucks have been waiting a long time. I know Boston fans have been waiting for the Bruins to get back in the final. Both cities are jacked up and excited."
"A guy I really looked up to and watched a lot that I can remember more than anyone is a guy like Todd Bertuzzi. He was a really great player, probably the best. He played when he was here in his career in the early 2000s, just playing that power forward role. He was someone I could easily look up to."
Lucic has always had a knack for playing big in big games as well as performing well in front of his hometown fans. He plans on feeding off the emotion of playing for the Cup in Vancouver.
"I've always been able to thrive off playing excited and with a lot of emotion," Lucic said. "I know I've heard some guys say that when they play at home in front of a lot of their friends and family that they seem to tense up a bit. I just get excited about it and I think it's the reason I'm able to perform [against Vancouver]."
Neely is happy for his fellow British Columbia native and is hoping he is able to once again step up his game in Vancouver.
"Coming back to Vancouver, he's obviously got some family and friends excited about it as well," Neely said. "It's the 40th anniversary for the Canucks. Being a former player, growing up here, it's an interesting matchup. It's exciting for sure."
Asked about playing the Canucks in the final, Neely said, "For Milan, it's probably a little bit different being a player in that regard. But he's got tons of family and friends that are excited about this matchup. I think a lot of people were certainly hoping for [Bruins versus Canucks] at the start of the year. To have two teams like this meet in the finals, from Milan's perspective, I don't think he could ask for anything better."
Well, there's one thing: helping make the Lucic-Neely-Vancouver connection the first Bruins team to win the Stanley Cup in 39 years.
James Murphy covers the Bruins for ESPNBoston.com.