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Dobro (L) and Snezana (R) Lucic are Serbian immigrants who have lived in the same East Van house for 25 years seen here at their home May 30, 2010 are the parents of Boston Bruins' Milan Lucic who face off against the Canucks Wednesday night in game one of the final round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. (JOHN LEHMANN/JOHN LEHMANN/THE GLOBE AND MAIL)
Dobro (L) and Snezana (R) Lucic are Serbian immigrants who have lived in the same East Van house for 25 years seen here at their home May 30, 2010 are the parents of Boston Bruins' Milan Lucic who face off against the Canucks Wednesday night in game one of the final round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. (JOHN LEHMANN/JOHN LEHMANN/THE GLOBE AND MAIL)

Milan Lucic: hero and villain Add to ...

If he wasn't Milan Lucic, the pride of East Vancouver and the local boy who made good the hard way, then the Boston Bruins forward would be an easy choice as the most likely villain of the Stanley Cup final.

But because he is Milan Lucic, a former member of the Western Hockey League's Vancouver Giants, and the son of immigrants from the non-latte part of town, it's not that simple.

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Should the Boston Bruins defeat the Vancouver Canucks for the National Hockey League championship, you can bet there will be many long faces around Canada's westernmost province. But there will also be many smiles for a player who is high on the list of B.C.'s favourite non-Canucks.

Lucic is a big, tough, goal-scoring hombre in the stereotypical Bruins mould, but he is also the quintessential East Vancouverite.

"A lot of good things have happened for me in Vancouver," Lucic said. "I played for the Vancouver Giants, won a WHL championship in Vancouver, got drafted in Vancouver. Won a Memorial Cup in Vancouver and here we go, it's the Stanley Cup in Vancouver.

"It's a dream come true definitely. Just to make the Stanley Cup final is a dream come true, but to be able to play in your hometown makes it extra special. I'm going to do whatever I can to make the most of this opportunity."

Milan Lucic, like his parents before him, is a testament to hard work. He was passed over by the top tier of junior hockey and played at the Junior-B level before making a meteoric rise to the NHL.

But it never would have happened if not for a chance encounter on Dec. 31, 1984, at the former Serbian Community Centre on Hastings Street. That was the day Lucic's mother, the former Snezana Kesa, whose brother Dan played for four NHL teams, including the Canucks, met a fellow 11 years her senior who was visiting from the former Yugoslavia.

As it turned out, Dobro Lucic's sister lived across the street from Snezana's best friend in Surrey, so when the New Year's Eve dinner and dance disappointed, the group bolted for the comforts of home, and strangers started bonding.

"He didn't know a word of English, so we spoke Serbian," Snezana said. "I didn't think much of it, but he said when he saw me he had a feeling he would marry me."

That would take about 18 months, after a transatlantic courtship that included love letters and expensive long-distance calls. Snezana visited the old country in the summer of 1985, when Dobro asked her parents permission to take her to his hometown of Praca, which is in Bosnia. They also vacationed with some friends on the Adriatic Sea, and when she returned home to Vancouver, where the family had moved from Knin, Croatia, before she was three, both knew it was only a matter of time.

"One day he said, 'We can't do this any longer, will you marry me?' " Snezana said. "Over the phone!"

She sponsored him to come to Canada, and he abandoned law school to follow his heart. They bought a plot in East Vancouver, razed the house, built their own home and had three sons, including middle child Milan.

Twenty-five years later, the Lucics still live in the same house, in the same working-class neighbourhood. Dobro is still a longshoreman, while Snezana works for Air Canada Jazz. Her father, Ilija, has been working for a scaffolding company since 1969, and can still be found on skyscrapers high above Vancouver's downtown streets, even though he is pushing 70.

The family home is about a 10-minute drive from the Pacific Coliseum, where the Canucks played until 1995, and still the Giants' arena. But major-junior hockey didn't appear to be in Lucic's future when he was passed over in the 2003 WHL bantam draft, which typically signifies a lack of professional potential.

Undaunted, and with parents who told him to follow his dream because they remembered waking him for 5 a.m. practices with just a tap on the shoulder, Lucic played for the Junior-B Delta Ice Hawks. He caught the eye of the Coquitlam Express, a Junior-A franchise in the B.C. Hockey League, and made his debut with the Giants later that year.

In 2007, the Giants won the Memorial Cup championship on home ice, and Lucic assisted on the game-winning goal. He had been selected by the Bruins in the second round of the 2006 entry draft, and at 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds with a scoring touch, he had plenty of physical tools.

While most players need some seasoning before making the big jump to the NHL, Lucic wasn't one of them. He turns 23 next week, but he didn't play a single game of minor-professional hockey, and made the Bruins roster out of training camp in 2007.

He has since logged four seasons, scored 77 goals (13 in the playoffs), and developed legions of fans in New England as well as in Vancouver - despite notching the game-winning goal in Boston's 3-1 victory at Rogers Arena this season.

"It's a little bittersweet because all the people here are rooting for the home team," Snezana Lucic said of the Stanley Cup matchup. "I'm trying to convert them. I'm not having much success."

Follow on Twitter: @mattsekeres

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