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Winning Attitude

Jan 22, 2020
Written By: Randy Cleves

A national champion at the University of Denver, Jarid Lukosevicius is transferring his competitive streak to the pros.

Story and photo by Mark Newman

Jarid Lukosevicius is a former college hockey player now trying to make a name for himself in the professional ranks, a task which is always a challenge but one that may be heightened by the dozen letters that follow his first name, courtesy of his grandparents who emigrated to Canada from Lithuania.

It’s pronounced Luko-savages, which sounds invariably vicious but is noticeably at odds with the temperament of the young man who bears the imposing moniker.

“A fun-loving kid who brings a smile to his teammates’ faces regularly” is how ex-University of Denver coach Jim Montgomery described Lukosevicius. “An infectious personality, a fun kid to be around,” says his current coach, the Griffins’ Ben Simon.

Ferocious, Lukosevicius is not, although he admits to being completely and convincingly competitive to a level that he suggests is not entirely healthy, a trait that might be as likely to rear its head during a game of Call of Duty as on the ice.

“I hate to lose more than anything. It doesn’t matter what it is,” he said. “I can’t stand losing. Sometimes I’m too competitive.”

He wasn’t always that way. When he was growing up in Squamish, British Columbia, nothing made him happier than to grab a baseball glove and head to the diamond with friends.

“I loved playing baseball, but baseball for me was just about fun. I was stoked for every game,” he recalled. “I loved playing in the field, but I wasn’t crazy about hitting, which sounds weird. I played shortstop and I found that catching the ball and throwing guys out was way more entertaining than getting on base.”

He also enjoyed playing hockey, which is a good thing when your folks are making the 90-minute drive into Vancouver for practice every day. And hockey, like baseball, was all about fun.

“I was more interested in hanging out with my friends,” he said. “I didn’t practice when I should have been more serious, even at a young age. I took time off, and you can’t really do that in hockey. It took me a little while to figure it out.”

When he was 12, Lukosevicius moved in with an aunt and uncle to get closer to the action. “I still had to find a ride to practice because they had two little boys themselves, with a third on the way,” he said. “It’s crazy all the people who helped me when I was growing up.”

Eventually, having become old enough to drive himself, he moved back to Squamish, later playing a couple of junior seasons with the Powell River Kings in the British Columbia Hockey League.

A proverbial late-bloomer, his goal was to get a college scholarship.

At first, it looked like he might play in the Midwest, but he knew he would sign with Denver shortly after visiting Minnesota State. He was still at the airport when Montgomery called to make him an offer that he could not refuse.

“When I saw the location on my caller ID, I thought, ‘Wow.’ Joe Sakic was my favorite player and Colorado was my favorite team, so I was ready to commit even though I didn’t know anything about the school,” he said. “As it went, things turned out really well.”

Lukosevicius credits Montgomery with giving him a sense of direction.

“I’ve had a lot of good coaches over the years, but Monty really helped me develop as a player,” he said. “He taught me a lot of things I didn’t know. He definitely changed my career for the better. He helped me love the game even more.”

Lukosevicius was a healthy scratch seven times during his freshman year.

“He’d let you know if you had a bad practice, and if you don’t practice well, you’re not playing in the game. It didn’t matter if you were a freshman or a senior,” he said.

“I thought I always worked hard, but he brought my work ethic to another level and gave me reasons to compete and work hard. He made me aware of who I was, what my strengths and weaknesses were.”

Playing defensive hockey was not one of his strengths. Recruited to be a point producer, Lukosevicius had to learn how to play both ends of the ice and become a 200-foot player.

“I was not good in the D-zone. I was awful,” he said. “I’m still not the greatest skater and I’m still working on my angles, but defense is something you’ve got to learn.”

The Pioneers made college hockey’s Frozen Four three of his four seasons in Denver.

“It should have been four of four,” he said. “We had our best team the year after we won the title. We were really good but it’s hard to win back-to-back.”

When Denver defeated Minnesota Duluth 3-2 in the 2017 Frozen Four to become Division I champions, Lukosevicius scored all three goals, all coming in the second period. Honored as the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, he gives credit to his teammates.

“I didn’t really do much. I probably had the puck on my stick for 10 seconds the whole period,” he says, suggesting that he was lucky to be in the right place at the right time with good teammates.

“I’ve been fortunate to play with so many good players and you have to learn how to play with them,” he said. “You’ve either got to get open for them or you’ve got to give them space and then get them the puck.

“The end of the game was the longest eight minutes of my life. It’s hard to remember, but it seemed like we spent the whole time in our zone, the whole eight minutes. When we won, it was crazy.”

After the Pioneers failed to qualify for the Frozen Four during his junior season, he was one of only two returning seniors who helped Denver get another crack at the title. He recorded seven game-winning goals during his senior season, boosting his career total to a school-record 20.

“Nothing’s better than scoring goals,” he said. “It’s an incredible feeling, but game-winning goals just happen. You’re just trying to score and you want to win. So it’s all about wanting to score.”

As much as Lukosevicius loves being able to put the puck into the net, he knows that you’re not going to score if you don’t shoot. He led Denver in shots during his last three seasons in school.

He led his team in goals during his senior year with 19, 12 of which were against conference opponents to place him second in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC).

Although Denver dropped a 4-3 decision to UMass in the semifinals, Lukosevicius remained satisfied with what he was able to accomplish during his four years and happy with how he had grown as a player.

“I thought I was going for school,” he said. “I never really believed in myself. I didn’t think I was that good. Eventually, I realized that maybe there was a chance that I could make it (as a professional).”

Lukosevicius was thrilled to sign a two-year contract with the Griffins before this season.

He had caught the eye of Red Wings management, who had been keeping tabs on Denver goaltender Filip Larsson, Detroit’s sixth-round pick in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft.

“(Red Wings assistant GM) Ryan Martin and (director of player development) Shawn Horcoff were honest with me. They broke down the game plan and that’s what I liked. I like people to be honest. I asked for feedback. I don’t need them to tell me my strengths. I want to know my weaknesses.

“I know what I have to do and it’s up to me to do it. I’m here to get better, not to get worse.”

Lukosevicius admits that the transition to AHL is going to take time, especially since he missed some games due to injury.

“It’s different,” he said. “It’s my job now. With so many games, you have to learn that when you don’t have your ‘A’ game, you can still contribute. I know I have to learn how to work smarter. When you’re overworking, it can’t hurt your play and that hurts the team. There’s so much to learn.”

Simon said Lukosevicius shows good potential.

“He brings good energy. He’s got a good motor, his feet are always moving. He’s got tremendous upside with offensive talent, but we have to see what the route will be for him.”

As is the case for many young players, it’s a process of building confidence.

“At every level, it takes a little while to figure things out, which is common,” Lukosevicius said. “Hopefully I figure it out. I’m starting to realize what I should do and to build confidence. It’s all a work-in-progress.

“This is my life now. It’s a job, but I’m doing what I love to do. I know there are a lot of people who don’t like their job. I’m just thankful for this opportunity.”