Brad Lukowich was back in town on Friday night, but it wasn’t a social call.
The Cranbrook native rolled in with the Lethbridge Hurricanes to challenge the Kootenay Ice, nearly pulling off an upset and forcing a shootout in a 4-3 loss.
Lukowich, a defenceman who retired from professional hockey in 2012 after spending the twilight of his career with the Texas Stars in the AHL, signed on as an assistant coach with the ‘Canes in the offseason.
After a 15-year career of professional hockey highlighted by two Stanley Cup titles with the Dallas Stars and Tampa Bay Lightning, Lukowich now finds himself on the other side of the bench.
In his final years with the Stars, he acted almost like a player-coach, mentoring the young talent on the team’s roster, and he is continuing to do that in his new role with the ‘Canes.
“To be honest with you, these guys have picked up a lot of things a lot quicker than I ever could’ve imagined,” said Lukowich. “We had a whole new system coming in, we have a whole new approach to the game, we have whole new off-ice workouts, practices. Everything’s new now.
“You’ve got guys who’ve been here three or four years now doing it a certain way, and you gotta come in and try to do it differently. It’s not an easy task, so for us, we got to look at the bright side and see the strides we’ve made.”
Lukowich isn’t the only fresh face behind the bench as head coach Drake Berehowsky was hired in the offseason as well, replacing Rich Preston after a four-year tenure.
The ‘Canes suffered a collapse in the second half of the season last year, slipping from the middle of the pack in the Eastern Conference standings to just shy of a playoff spot when they were leapfrogged by the Kootenay Ice.
The Hurricanes ended the season below 0.500 with a 28-34-3-7 record.
“We don’t know what happened here last year, and we don’t really care,” said Lukowich. “We’re looking into the future, we’re looking to see what we have coming up against the night.
“We’re still finding out what these guys have. We’ve got specific roles for guys to play, we don’t really care what they did in the past, and we’re just moving forward everyday.”
However, Lukowich did point to the Kootenay Ice last year, using the team’s second-half performance as an example of what the Hurricanes want to see from themselves.
“They started slow and [Ryan McGill] Gilly dialled them all in, once they bought in and were all on the same page, they turned into a really strong force, and that’s kind of how we’re approaching our season this year,” Lukowich said.
“Stick with the plan, get these guys all going in the same direction and have a really solid push in the second half.”