For years, when I was feeling down, my favourite form of stress relief did not consist of eating Haagen Dazs or blasting Rise Against in my room, but rather binge watching episodes of my favourite show, and by that I mean repeatedly watching the above video of Milan Lucic being steamrolled by miscellaneous players over and over. It always brought a smile to my face. I don't have one permanent team I root against all the time, but for the past few seasons I have been choosing my most hated team based on where Milan Lucic is playing. I didn't know I hated the LA Kings until last season, when I suddenly realized I really hate the LA Kings.
So understandably, as it became more and more apparent recently that the Edmonton Oilers were going to sign Milan Lucic, I experienced a heaping dose of cognitive dissonance, not in tiny teaspoons but rather all rudely dumped on my head at once from a large bucket. I began to kind of understand what an arranged marriage to your least favourite person on earth might feel like.
How could I reconcile the fact that my least favourite athlete would now be playing for my favourite team?
I'm sure I'm not the only Oilers fan with a dislike for Lucic, so I wanted to share my emotional journey over the past few days, in hopes of helping other struggling fans along this important transition. My journey went as such- I evaluated the situation, and after roughly ten seconds of thoughtful consideration, realized it would not be possible for me to suddenly hate the Oilers. So, instead, I decided to try loving Milan Lucic.
Surprisingly, and perhaps proving cognitive dissonance is not just a theory people who took Psych 101 toss around to sound intelligent, it took me almost no time at all to love him after he put on the Oilers jersey. It was as if as soon as he became one of us, all his annoying and nefarious traits became wonderfully annoying and nefarious.
I watched his first press conference on Friday, not knowing what to expect, and found the video bringing a smile to my face for completely different reasons. Remarkably, it seemed like Milan Lucic was cosplaying a vaguely likeable human being. For the first time ever, I realized that Milan Lucic…smiles? He even laughs! He's kind of awkward and even a little charming, sneaking in a lame joke here and there, showing more conviction and personality in one interview than Leon Draisaitl has in a lifetime (no knock on Leon as a player, but you could watch an entire post-game interview with him and realize you've listened to him talk sullenly for two minutes but have learned absolutely nothing new).
It's remarkable how quickly one's opinion can change, and a player who once seemed like the second coming of Voldemort looks more and more like a warm Serbian teddy bear who will protect Connor McDavid for years to come. Watching his recent interviews and digging into who he is as a player and person, I discovered many more traits about Milan Lucic that will help you love him. I don't know how many Oilers fans out there still find his face unbearably punchable, but if you need some help embracing the newest member of the team, Copper & Blue is here to save the day with the following list of reasons to love Milan Lucic. Please note that for the rest of the article I will be referring to him by first name only, because now Milan is family, and that's how families roll. That is a sentence I legitimately never thought I would write.
1. He loves Connor McDavid
Almost all Oilers fans have built a physical or psychological shrine somewhere for Connor McDavid, because he is just the best and no one will ever disagree with that. So it says a lot when Milan Lucic seems to have outfanboyed even the most ardent McDaviders out there in just the span of a few days. When asked why he chose Edmonton over other teams, he gave a one-word answer, "Connor McDavid," while wearing a big, silly grin as his eyes smiled so much they became mini crescents.
During a recent appearance on NHL Tonight, Milan was asked about McDavid and said "It's probably the main reason why I chose to sign in Edmonton, was to kind of ride shotgun with what this kid is going to be doing here in the near future."
If that wasn't enough, he was spotted Saturday morning at Edmonton International Airport sporting a McDavid t-shirt (above), melting the hearts of Oilers fans everywhere. It's not a stretch to assume he has a framed poster of McDavid in his bedroom, McDavid bath towels, and a tramp stamp of McDavid's face he'll show him enthusiastically when they finally meet. Somewhere on an Alberta farmland, Mark Messier is seething at his new rival and frantically texting Connor about the herd of sheep he just discovered roaming nearby.
2. He's an intense competitor who's faced, and overcome, adversity
In the summer of 2015, Milan lost his father unexpectedly. A month later, his second child was born, and almost exactly another month later, he got traded across the country, away from the only team he had ever known. This is a man who's ridden some rough waves in life and came out on the other side stronger, more mature, and ready to take on even more of a leadership role in the locker room. It's an inevitability, and now looks to be sooner rather than later after a certain trade last week, that Connor McDavid will eventually be the next Oilers captain. But expecting a 19-year old to lead an entire NHL team on his own without the support of seasoned veterans, and more importantly, ones who've won Stanley Cups and battled personal and professional adversity, would be very difficult.
Milan brings that and much more, a burning competitiveness and intensity that adds a much-needed edge to a locker room oft criticized for complacency. That's a mentality he brings on the ice during the season and in the gym during the offseason, as well. Just look at him doing workout things in this video. I can absolutely guarantee that if it were me trying to push that heavy-looking sled apparatus, it would not even budge one millimeter and instead send me recoiling back on my ass from the sheer weight of the thing.
3. He has a blue collar background and playing style
Recently, Milan repeatedly had to fend off people asking about the seven-year term of his contract and how his body would hold up. In today's NHL, someone who turned 28 less than a month ago is now the epitome of brittle old age, and Milan countered by asserting he has "Eastern European bones on [his] side," alluding to his Serbian heritage. His parents, Dobro and Snezana, are both Serbian immigrants who started new lives in East Vancouver, historically home for lower-income working class families. For a city that has embraced heroes like Ryan Smyth with the gritty, blue-collar mentality, Milan's background and gritty playing style both set him up nicely to become a fan favourite in Edmonton very soon.
4. He makes the team so much tougher
Lucic has already been intimately acquainted with a few of his new teammates. And by that I mean Milan's fists have made close, tender contact with the faces of quite a few Oilers previously and currently on the team. More often than not, those said Oilers have come out on the losing end of those scraps; does it look like Patty Maroon was enjoying this fight in the image above? You can't even look into his eyes because they are tightly shut, but if you could, you would see raw, unimaginable terror. Now, because Milan is an Oiler, this above image will probably happen again during the season but can be reimagined as Milan affectionately tickling Patty in the locker room after an OT win, and Patty's frightened look reinterpreted as laughter. It's all about perspective.
I also have a strong feeling Lucic will take eager rookies like Darnell Nurse, whose face he may have slightly destroyed in the past, under his wing and teach him a thing or two about holding his own during fights, leading primarily by example. He may even choose to tutor some unlikelier candidates on the team, taking us one step closer to my dream of seeing Eberle knock Chara out in a gravity-defying fight I've fantasized about more than a few times.
5. He's an annoying, physical, mean jerk, but now he's our jerk
All those things you hated about Milan Lucic-- the needless shoving, the chirping, that facial expression, the pissing you off so much you want to scream and then scoring a goal to make it even worse-- you're going to see it on a nightly basis. But now it's going to piss the hell out of other teams, and however much ire he raised in you, now it's the other 29 teams and their fans that will be feeling it. You, instead, will be awash with a feeling of euphoric satisfaction you didn't know was possible.
"I'm like a pitbull. You corner me, I'll fight my way out," he said in a previous interview. "If I don't react, what message am I sending?" After years of seeing Oilers players skating away from scrums as the teammates who dared to stand up for themselves got facewash after facewash of gloves and fists, knowing there's a man ready to charge in like a deranged pitbull at anytime and take down anyone who dares come within one follicle of Connor McDavid is infinitely comforting and satisfying. Not only will there be a great addition to the Oilers, there is one less annoying opponent to worry about for the next seven years.
6. He looks good posing with puppies
Proof: this is Milan Lucic posing with a puppy.
After writing this piece, I am now absolutely ecstatic to see Milan come into town and instill some real terror into the deepest, darkest corners of any opponent's soul. Instead of seeing the likes of Ryan Kesler come into town and push Leon Draisaitl around like his pet German Shepherd, we'll be treated with the very pleasing prospect of seeing Kesler slammed onto the ice after running into the wall of a man that is Milan Lucic. I hate myself a little for loving him, and this was admittedly the quickest opinion change I've had about anything since I tried Chick-Fil-A a few years ago, but I have very little shame, so it's not really a big issue.
Milan, welcome to the Oilers family. I hope you score a lot of goals, annoy a lot of people, and most importantly, get to give Connor a big bear hug each and every day of the next seven years. Let the Looch Era begin.