Milan Lucic didn’t have a smooth transition to the Calgary Flames. After waiving his no-move clause to allow a trade from Edmonton, he struggled to find a role on the club. But Lucic stuck with it, persevered, and has carved out a key role as a physical forward and locker room leader. He recently played in his 1,000th NHL game.

Lucic has been nominated for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy, as selected by the Calgary chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers Association.

Selected annually by the full membership of the PHWA (from a pool of nominees chosen by each local chapter), the Masterton Trophy is given to the NHL player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey. The award is named after the late Bill Masterton, who passed away in 1968 following injuries sustained in a game.

A product of Vancouver, Lucic fell in love with the game at an early age and worked his way up to major junior. He played two seasons with the Western Hockey League’s Vancouver Giants, playing in the Memorial Cup tournament each season and being named the tournament MVP in 2007. He was drafted by the Boston Bruins in the 2006 NHL Draft, 50th overall, and made the Bruins roster out of camp in 2007 as a 19-year-old.

Lucic had a ton of success with the Bruins, finding a niche as a big-bodied player that played physical but could also be counted on for offense. He was a big part of the 2011 Bruins team that won the Stanley Cup, winning the championship in Lucic’s hometown of Vancouver over the Canucks. Lucic was traded to the Los Angeles Kings in the summer of 2015, then landed with the Edmonton Oilers as a free agent in 2016 after signing a hefty seven year, $42 million deal.

But after waiving his no-move clause to join the Flames in the summer of 2019, Lucic found himself with no defined role with the club. He revealed on a February 2020 appearance on CBC’s After Hours that he had contemplated retirement.

“It just wasn’t much fun coming to the rink,” said Lucic, in a recent chat with the media. “Especially when you don’t have a role on the team and all that type of stuff. Especially when you feel like you still have a lot to give. I think what persevered was your love for the game. Even though those thoughts were in my mind, I never really didn’t enjoy coming to the rink. I still love practising and working hard and playing the game, and I think the love of the game is what got me through it and kept me going.”

Adding to the challenging situation was Lucic’s unfamiliarity with most of his new teammates. But he managed to forge new friendships that helped him get through his doubts and have fun again.

“It was tough because I came to a new team and I hadn’t played with any of the guys on this team before,” said Lucic. “So I didn’t really have much of a relationship with guys here. It was tough at the start. But me, Gio [Mark Giordano] and Monny [Sean Monahan] clicked right off the start and those were two of the guy that brought me in, that I had relationships with right off the get-go. Even talking to Wardo [Geoff Ward] at the time a lot about it, he was just telling me to stick with it and all that type of stuff. Which sometimes it’s hard to do when you’re talking about it with an assistant coach and the head coach has a different plan or a different mindset.”

Things turned around for him after the coaching change, as he became relied upon by teammates as someone with insights on Ward, their new head coach. He also began having fun, notably after the call-ups of Dillon Dube and Zac Rinaldo mid-season. Since then, Lucic has become one of the more consistent Flames performers and a locker room leader.

“There are lows that individuals hit in their careers and that was definitely one for me. But being able to come through it and having the love and support from my teammates and my family and all that type of stuff has really made me feel like myself again.”

Flames players have been honoured with the Masterton Trophy twice in the club’s history: Lanny McDonald was awarded it in 1982-83 and Gary Roberts in 1995-96.

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