The Oilers step on the ice at 10 a.m this morning and their 37th NHL season will begin. You might say the season doesn’t begin until October 12th, but veteran Milan Lucic believes if things are finally going to change in Edmonton then their season actually began yesterday at medicals.
Lucic was very excited yesterday. He had a huge grin on his face discussing the new arena, Connor McDavid and his teammates, but he was also clear in what he feels needs to change for this team to improve.
Every year for the past six or seven seasons hope springs eternal on the first day of camp. Every player, just like fans, is happy, excited and positive about the season. We’ve heard the same lines. “I like our team.” “We have improved.” But once the season starts the actions don’t match the words.
Lucic has played on winning teams. He’s won a Cup. I asked him how he thinks this team can finally go from a group that loses to one who is competitive.
“You have to get rid of that here we go again attitude. You talk about the good teams. I’ve been fortunate to be a part of some good teams, and teams who had good seasons. When you get into a two or three game losing streak, you cut it off there. You make sure you don’t lose the third one. You have to build some consistency within the season.
“I think it starts with building an identity. This is a team that hasn’t really had an identity of the past couple of years. I think that is the first thing we need to establish. You have the right coach, the right GM and the right superstar to lead the way, and it is about everyone having the right attitude and mindset in order for that to come together.
“Having that ‘Oh here we go again’ attitude is something that needs, that negativity needs to find it’s way out of player’s minds and out of the dressing room. You have to be looking forward to the next day no matter what happened the day before. Have fun working hard, playing hard with each other and practising hard. It doesn’t happen overnight, but you have to do that with the right type of attitude and mindset and it starts here today,” said Lucic.
BEING A LEADER
Lucic adds a different feel to the team. He will be a vocal leader who plays a significant role on the ice. The Oilers haven’t had that for many seasons. Many of their top minute eaters were not vocal leaders. It wasn’t in their DNA, but Lucic is comfortable being a leader on and off the ice.
But he is coming to a new team. I asked him how he approaches coming to a new team where many are expecting him to be the vocal leader and someone who challenges players when necessary.
“As a new guy coming in, I guess there is a bit of a feeling out process, but after a couple of weeks you go back to being yourself and how you are among the group and the team. I think it is always good and healthy to have that challenge and inner competition amongst the team. Trying to outplay guys in practice, battling hard in practice, those types of habits you when you create them there (practice) they become second nature in the game.
“When you practice hard with guys, and go through the trenches, you start building that trust and they will start having your back and things start to flow in the right direction. It is always nice to have those challenges and to be able to challenge yourself and challenge others as far as the team goes.
“Obviously everyone wants to do their best stat-wise. I’m not going to lie, I like to do well and contribute as much as I can stat wise, but at the end of the day challenging each other to do what is best for the team and do the little things that will get you the wins. Once you install that in the group you will start going in the right direction,” said Lucic.
This group desperately needed a vocal leader who will play in key situations like Lucic. He is a proven veteran and a difference maker. Every since the schedule came out I’ve discussed the importance of a good start. The Oilers can’t afford a mediocre October. Lucic mentioned a good start, and he was already hammering home how the team’s attitude and approach has to change from day one of training camp.
It is something I will watch closely during the preseason. Will we see more players committed to making the small plays, or tough plays, to help the team win.
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