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Lucic remains big man on campus

Milan Lucic has celebrated one Cup (the Memorial in ’07) with his high school, and social studies teacher Harold Neufeld. Milan Lucic has celebrated one Cup (the Memorial in ’07) with his high school, and social studies teacher Harold Neufeld. (Killarney Secondary School, Vancouver, British Columbia)
By Amalie Benjamin
Globe Staff / June 14, 2011

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Outside the high school, in a quiet residential area of Vancouver, there is a signal of the divided loyalties. Under the school sign, in letters placed one by one, is the name of the former student making headlines of late, above the rallying cry of the hockey-mad city. “Lucic’’ is up there. “Go Canucks go’’ is, too.

Killarney Secondary School wins either way, though it’s clear that its teachers and students would much prefer one outcome. Even though it hasn’t been that long since the Bruins’ Milan Lucic sat in these classrooms, read these textbooks, studied under these teachers, those here want to see their Canucks win. Of course, they figure the Stanley Cup would come back to Vancouver, perhaps even Killarney, if the Bruins prevailed.

“My perspective is that this school doesn’t have anything to lose,’’ said Reid Auman, a physical education teacher and basketball coach. “One way or another, we get the Cup.’’

They have seen Lucic grow from a quiet, polite teenager to a high-scoring, media-savvy NHL left wing. They have known him to be conscientious, to turn in his work on time, despite the demands of a growing career, to be single-minded in his focus. Like when he nearly knocked out his 11th grade social studies teacher, Harold Neufeld.

“We did a teacher vs. student floor hockey game in the gym,’’ Neufeld said. “I remember him coming toward our net and the puck was kind of a little way in front of him, so I tried to get the puck and he just nailed me. Boom. I went flying about 20 feet. He didn’t say sorry or anything. He just scored a goal. He wasn’t dirty, he was just focused.’’

The word that keeps coming up, repeated by just about everyone, is “sweet,’’ not normally a word associated with a hockey player, especially one with a bit of enforcer in him. Lucic’s former French teacher, Jessica Zallen, even calls him “a big sweetheart,’’ something that is likely to go over well in a hockey locker room.

“I’ve had better athletes than him, coached better athletes, but he’s very determined,’’ Auman said. “You could see that at a young age. You can see now he’s the kind of guy who’s willing to go to battle and he’s willing to go in the corners and do whatever it takes, like in front of the net. It was the same thing with all of the other sports. He didn’t back down.’’

And now he’s playing for the Cup. Against their Canucks.

There are Canucks shirts on students, on faculty. Priscilla Reddy, who works in student records, was wearing a green version yesterday, as all of Vancouver prepared for Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final. Maggie Livingstone, who works in the cafeteria, was wearing another color. She was sporting a No. 17 Bruins jersey, with Lucic’s name across the back. It’s her game day shirt, even if she has to take some good-natured abuse from the bus driver on her ride home.

“I like the Canucks, don’t get me wrong, but I like to support our east side people, students, especially Killarney kids,’’ Livingstone said. “Everybody here supports our kids, I know that for a fact, but I like to do it and say, ‘Hey, I’m supporting a Killarney kid.’ I think he’s going to do it in the seventh game and he’s going to score the winning goal, or assist on it, at least.’’

Most find themselves rooting for Lucic, cheering on the sly when he scores or makes a big hit. They find themselves hoping he wins the Stanley Cup — just in the future.

They have loved seeing him grow and succeed, watching his game evolve. They believe there’s even more out there for him.

“He was coachable and he was very fortunate to get some very good coaches,’’ Neufeld said. “He was the type of person who would listen to a coach. He wouldn’t be cocky, just humble and work his butt off. To me, it was a miracle [that he became a scorer] because he wasn’t a finesse guy really. But you look at him now, the puck’s right on the tape when he passes it. And he can pick those corners.

“I think he’s just going to get better. He’s not going to stop learning like some guys [who] are happy with their paycheck. He won’t be like that.’’

They were working on the final preparations for the prom at Killarney, hours before last night’s game. Some of the teachers were trying to find televisions to set up, so the students wouldn’t miss their Canucks. Or their Lucic, who left his own prom early to celebrate with his Western Hockey League team, the Vancouver Giants, when they won the Memorial Cup.

“We’re just so proud of him,’’ said Shirley Chew, Lucic’s math and science teacher. “He’s just a good citizen. For whatever team he plays for, I’m just hoping for the best.’’

Auman interrupted, “But not this year.’’

Amalie Benjamin can be reached at abenjamin@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @AmalieBenjamin.

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