Flames’ Dube feeding off Lucic’s NHL playoff experience
You wouldn’t think that a 22-year-old bachelor would have a pile in common with a 30-something married father of three kids.
But that’s the thing about a hockey dressing room, especially in these circumstances due to COVID-19 which have forced the Calgary Flames into close quarters at Edmonton’s National Hockey League hub.
Yes, Dillon Dube and Milan Lucic had developed a close bond during the 2019-20 regular season.
But with nowhere to go (except the handful of restaurants inside the bubble), nothing to do (except spend every waking minute with your team), and no one to talk to (except your teammates and, of course, through the beauty of FaceTime), it turns out the two have more in common than meets the eye.
“We’re all on a team together, we’re all kind of pushing towards the same thing,” Dube was saying on Sunday’s Flames’ media conference through Zoom. “So, you get on the same level with that. Once you get to the rink, you share a lot more commonalities at the start, just by playing together and creating that friendship through being linemates. I think that just builds through the time you spend with each other.”
To put things into perspective and comparing their differences, Dube, who grew up in Cochrane, currently lives with his older brother Jake in Calgary in a bachelor pad and spent his quarantine rollerblading around his dad’s place of employment.
Lucic, meanwhile, shared snapshots of his time away from the team on social media which included listening to his infant son Milan Jr., play drums on a collection of household dishes and his daughters, Valentina and Nikolina, treating their dad to a pedicure complete with polish while he was sporting a pair of pink, heart-shaped sunglasses.
“When you say it that way (comparing the age difference) it’s hard to explain the way it is,” noted Dube, who just turned 22 on July 20 while Lucic, a full 10 years older than him, turned 32 on June 7. “But that’s just the way hockey works. You’re all equal when you get to the rink. And definitely I’ll be in that position one day where I’ll have a couple of kids and have that 20-year-old kid coming around the rink. But it’s just the way it is as hockey players. You treat each other differently than a normal 33-year-old — I mean — 34-year-old would for sure.”
Age is just a number, apparently.
But NHL experience counts for something, and it’s been an ongoing theme with Dube and Lucic since the two were placed on the same line when the former Kelowna Rocket was recalled from the American Hockey League’s Stockton Heat back in November.
Their chemistry is obvious, and grew as the Flames’ four-game NHL qualifying series against the Winnipeg Jets wore on. It wasn’t surprising considering the pair were noticeable at the team’s training camp last month, particularly in the scrimmage settings along with centres Sam Bennett and Derek Ryan.
And, if you want an example of the respect Dube has for Lucic, watch Thursday’s post-game Zoom call. The pair were sitting side-by-side, fielding questions from the media — well, one of them was.
“Do you want to say something Doobs?” Lucic interjected, before answering another with a chuckle. “I’m talking a lot.”
Much has been said about Dube’s ability to rise to the occasion in big games — most notably as captain of the gold-medal-winning 2018 world junior championship team — but the NHL post-season is the highest level one can aspire to.
Meanwhile Lucic has a Stanley Cup ring from his 2011 campaign with the Boston Bruins, 118 playoff games on his resume, and 958 regular season games. But the six-foot-three, 231-pounder has said on multiple occasions that the youthful energy rubs off on him too.
“These young guys that are just excited to be at the rink every day,” Lucic had said before the pandemic paused the season. “It’s a powerful thing … it’s fun being at the rink on a day-to-day basis. Because you want to be young with them.
“Even though I’m still young — and I still do feel young — I want to feel young the way I did when I was their age.”
Through osmosis along with ample time spent together on the ice, on the bench, and in the bubble, that experience has had an impact on Dube who scored his first playoff goal in Calgary’s 4-1 victory in Game 4 on Thursday and had an assist in Game 3.
“When he says something, about needing to do something on the ice, the compete level, you listen,” Dube said. “He’s done it. He’s been through every single high and low in hockey. To have a voice like that in the dressing room, you can really lean on him. He expects you to do that. He’s ready every game and has that voice that really pushes us together and pushes us in the right way.
“You trust him so much, just based on the stuff he’s done in playoffs.”
It was a relatively quiet start for Dube in the series against the Jets, which is to be expected given this is his first foray in the quest for the Stanley Cup. Last year when the Flames faced the Colorado Avalanche, he was relegated to the ‘Black Aces,’ trying to observe and learn as much as he could.
Flames head coach Geoff Ward noticed a natural progression in Dube and hopes it continues.
“I just thought that line developed some chemistry really quickly — that line got stronger as each game went on and (Dube) fit right in there,” Ward said. “He’s a young guy really going through his first playoff experience in the National Hockey League. So, I don’t know if I’d call it apprehension. I just think he’s really become confident as his minutes in the series have gone on. He’s got a lot of trust in his linemates and they’ve developed a really strong chemistry. He’s been a real good performer for us to this point.
“And, obviously, he brings some real important things to the table for us.”