MONTREAL – Milan Lucic admits he felt a little awkward going home to Vancouver for the summer after winning the Stanley Cup with the Boston Bruins.
The victory came at the expense of his hometown Canucks, with the Game 7 final series clincher played in Vancouver.
“Yes, it was interesting going back,” the Bruins winger said Monday. “But it wasn’t as bad as I thought.
“The people were actually very respectful to me and my family. And being a home town boy a lot of people were coming up to me to say they were happy I won the Cup. It was great to be able to go home and see everyone and share what I achieved with them.”
The Bruins were the team that got hot in the post season and went on to claim their first Cup since Bobby Orr and Co. won in 1972.
It made for a short, intense summer in which players mixed celebrations with recovery from their many bumps and bruises and trying to get ready for the 2011-12 campaign.
Pesky forward Brad Marchand, a playoff stalwart in his rookie season, spent his summer all the way across Canada in Halifax.
“It was really hectic,” he said. “I wasn’t expecting everything that came with it, but obviously I’d take it any day.
“Everywhere you go people are congratulating you. But there was a lot of responsibility that came with it. There are requests every single day for different events and you can’t do them all, especially with such a short summer. It gets overwhelming. And people start to expect things from you just because you’re from a certain town or area or you met someone some time. But at the same time, it’s a lot of fun.”
Coach Claude Julien said the fun times are over and now his club has to get down to the difficult business of trying to pull off the rare feat of repeating as champion. It hasn’t been done since the Detroit Red Wings in 1997 and 1998.
It seems that “turn the page” has become the team’s new motto.
“We’re Stanley Cup champions from last year, not this year, and if we plan on being in the mix, it’s important that we focus on starting the season the way we did last year and taking it one chunk at a time,” said Julien. “You have to establish yourself in a playoff spot before you can even think about the playoffs.
“So we’ve got 82 games that will be tough, with targets on our backs. Teams are going to up their games against us and we have to up our game.”
It will help that general manager Peter Chiarelli was able to keep most of his roster intact, and even brought it in with US$5.1 million to spare in salary cap space.
Veteran Mark Recchi retired and winger Michael Ryder left as a free agent for Dallas. They picked up winger Benoit Pouliot and defenceman Joe Corvo.
When Chicago won in 2010, cap concerns sparked a mass exodus on players, forcing the Blackhawks to rebuild around their core group of stars.
That is not the case in Boston, where the top line of centre David Krejci with Lucic and Nathan Horton remains, and Rich Peverley was already on hand to replace Recchi on the second unit with Patrice Bergeron and Marchand.
Late-season pickup Tomas Kaberle is gone, but the defence still has Zdeno Chara, Andrew Ference, Dennis Seidenberg, Adam McQuaid and Johnny Boychuk.
And Vezina Trophy winner Tim Thomas, who took the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP, is also back, although Julien said the 37-year-old will likely give up the net a few more times to backup Tuukka Rask this season to save energy after a demanding 2010-11 campaign.
The Bruins got good news this week when Horton played a full pre-season game without any after-effects from the crushing hit from Vancouver’s Aaron Rome that knocked him cold and put him out of the final with a concussion.
And they can probably count on more production from second-year centre Tyler Seguin, the highly skilled second overall draft pick of 2010.
Whether all that translates into a repeat championship remains to be seen.
Lucic, for one, isn’t looking that far ahead.
“Our main focus now is to get off to a good start to the season and rebuild that team chemistry and identity we had last year,” the burly winger said. “It’s pretty much the same team as last year, but you still have to go through the same process of building it like we did last year.
“We can’t talk about the playoffs unless we have a good season and get back in them. As you’ve seen, a lot of teams coming off a Stanley Cup have a tough time even making the playoffs. It’s great that we didn’t have to blow up our team like Chicago had to. I think that givesus a lot of confidence to go into this season with the same group of guys. But you still have to go through that process.”