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Flames veteran Lucic enjoying hot start

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Calgary Flames Milan Lucic

Calgary Flames winger Milan Lucic is enjoying everything more this season. Hockey. The taste of his food.

Seriously. He said it. Winning tends to have that effect on veteran players like Lucic.

“We had a lot of motivation coming into this year just because of how things went last year. We wanted to get that winning feel, that culture thing going again,” Lucic said of the team’s 7-1-3 start. “Everything’s better when you’re winning. It’s fun coming to the rink. Food tastes better, you sleep better. You’re smiling more. You like being around your teammates.”

The 33-year-old veteran’s four goals in the last six games might also have something to do with that extra flavour. On pace for 30 goals for the first time since his Stanley Cup winning season in 2011, Lucic isn’t getting too far ahead of himself. A high shooting percentage and low average ice time doesn’t bode well for sustainability.

“I just try to take everything day by day. The main thing for me is I just want to have fun and contribute to the team any way I can,” said Lucic. “I know what my abilities are and what I need to do and what I need to bring on a daily basis to help this team win.”

When he first joined the Calgary Flames in 2019-20, he wasn’t so sure about those things. James Neal, the player Lucic was traded for, was thriving early in Edmonton. Lucic later shared a story of his early season struggles on After Hours on Hockey Night in Canada.

“I even started questioning whether I should just hang them up,” he told Scott Oake. “It just wasn’t fun for me anymore. And it had nothing to do with James Neal having success. It was just really hard.”

Flames power winger thriving again under head coach Darryl Sutter

The turnaround for Lucic started when Geoff Ward took over as head coach when Bill Peters resigned amid the allegations of racism.

He’s thriving again under current Flames head coach Darryl Sutter, who had Lucic in Los Angeles in 2015-16 – one of his five 20-goal NHL campaigns.

The goals may be a bonus, but Sutter acknowledges what makes Lucic a valuable veteran.

“He accepts and handles a role really well in terms of managing ice time,” said Sutter, who deploys the big-bodied winger an average of just over 12:30 a night. “It’s more about productivity, and Looch has been really good at that. That’s a good lesson or a good example for younger players, also.”

Lucic has also previously detailed his love for playing with Dillon Dube and finds himself most frequently with Dube and Andrew Mangiapane since Brett Ritchie hit the injured reserve list last week.

He knows the key to his success now.

Lucic understands role includes hard work, physicality and sacrifice

“The main thing is having fun doing it. Having fun working hard, having fun playing the right way, having fun being physical,” Lucic said. “I’ve always been one of those guys where you do whatever you’ve got to do and sacrifice whatever you have to sacrifice in order to win. As you get older, roles change.”

It helps to know the fans appreciate him, too. (And also that Neal was eventually bought out).

The long ‘Looooch’ chant has been especially loud this week. Or maybe it just seems that way because it had been so long since Calgary Flames fans could voice their love for him at the Saddledome.

“It’s great. I’ve kind of had that going my whole career. It’s fun when you hear it,” said Lucic.

“It’s always fun and you appreciate all their love for you as a player. I think this year, it’s not individuals, you feel the love for the team from the fans here in Calgary. We really enjoy that. We really appreciate that.”

You can bet he’ll hear more of it when the Flames take on the San Jose Sharks Tuesday night.

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