Jake Lucchini says Terry Jones of the Beaver Valley Nitehawks is one of the best coaches he’s had.
While Lucchini didn’t make the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League team’s roster at 16, Jones believed in the Trail product and called him up whenever injuries happened.
Lucchini, who plays for the Laval Rockets in the American Hockey League, saw action in the final nine regular season games with the Nitehawks, putting up 13 points. He was part of their playoff run, collecting eight points in 12 playoff games.
“I loved my time in the KIJHL. It was a good experience,” he says. “It helped me to get to the next level.”
That experience helped him transition to the B.C. Hockey League, where he captained the Trail Smoke Eaters in his final season and put up 48 goals and 117 points in 168 regular season games.
In the National Collegiate Athletic Association with Michigan Tech, Lucchini had 45 goals and 104 points in 164 regular season games.
His biggest takeaway was getting that late season playing experience, especially in the playoffs since he had never really saw that type of action before.
“That experience really helped me. We had a good team that year. It was all or nothing for us,” says Lucchini. “I come into a lineup where the expectation was to win. In Trail, we never made it to the playoffs, and for college we had good teams. Getting playoff experience really helped.”
His brother Jeremy also played for the Nitehawks, winning the Keystone Cup with them in 2013-14 and played two seasons of U Sports hockey with York University.
When Lucchini finished his college career, he signed a pro contract with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2018-19 and joined their AHL team, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins.
He played 15 regular season games and scored six goals and added an assist. Last season was his first full season of action, playing 61 games and putting up 11 goals and 20 points. He played the final eight games with Laval.
Upon starting his pro career, Lucchini learned the pro game is different from college. He says it helped to be able to play 14 games before his first full AHL season as it allowed him to get comfortable and understand what it took to be a pro.
The transition from college to the AHL is similar to moving up from junior to college and the 25-year-old says for the most part it has been easy. Guys are awesome, but there is also a lot of turnover from the AHL to the NHL. There are more opportunities when players move up to the NHL, which Lucchini hopes will happen to him one day.
The start of his career has been good, with its share of ups and downs. He’s adjusting to playing a lot of games in a short period saying there are many swings in how you play. What he likes is being able to play just a couple days after having an off night. He also enjoys the free time.
He lives near downtown Montreal as the Rockets are playing out of the Bell Centre, sharing the arena with the Canadiens this season.
“It’s kind of cool, playing in the Bell Centre,” he says. “We get treated really well.”
Until recently, Lucchini was coached by former Vancouver Canuck Alex Burrows, now an assistant coach with the Canadiens. He was a player Lucchini looked up to as a kid. Lucchini was a big Canucks fan growing up, and still checks up on them.
“I like the way he played. I got to learn from him,” says Lucchini, saying Burrows is awesome as a coach. “Really energetic. He knows the game well and he kind of coaches similar to how he played. He is an easy guy to get along with.”
Since entering the AHL, the five-foot-11, 183 pound forward is trying to be consistent in a really tough league.
“The main goal is to get to the NHL. Everyone on our team is trying to get there,” he says. “It’s important to be consistent and have a good attitude and work hard. There are so many different types of players. Every night is hard.”
Lucchini, who earned a degree in sports and fitness management with a minor in coaching, has many options with his education, including being able to earn a masters. He wants to play as long as he can, however, a back up plan is to potentially go back to school to become a graduate assistant coach to get experience.