No matter what level of hockey Jake Lucchini plays, the Trail native finds a way to elevate his game.
The former Trail Smoke Eaters forward took another giant step forward this week and signed a one-year entry-level contract with the Pittsburgh Penguins of the National Hockey League.
“It was kind of crazy,” said the undrafted Lucchini. “They told me when I was at their development camp, they were going to keep an eye on me throughout the year. Our season ended on Sunday night, so yesterday, they sent everything over and I was signing everything and doing pictures … it was crazy, but it’s exciting, I couldn’t be more excited.”
After winning back-to-back NCAA Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA) championships, Lucchini’s senior year with the Michigan Tech Huskies came to a disappointing end on the weekend. The Huskies lost twice to Bowling Green University in the WCHA tournament. It was a long bus ride home from Ohio for Lucchini and the team, but the good news from Pittsburgh took away some of the sting.
“It’s exciting because I get to keep playing, and I got the opportunity to sign a contract, but it’s unfortunate the way things ended. My first three years we were so successful, we won the playoff the last two years, and the regular season my first year, so it is way too early, but it’s cool to be able to keep playing.”
The professional contract doesn’t kick in until next season, but Lucchini was on a plane to Wilkes-Barre, Penn. on Tuesday night to play with Penguins’ American Hockey League affiliate Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (WBS) Penguins on an Amateur Tryout Contract.
“I’m eligible to play as early as tomorrow if all the paperwork goes through,” said Lucchini. “I hope I get to play some games, and I’ll be there until they’re done. So I’m juggling school and hockey, and trying to finish because I’m scheduled to graduate this spring.”
And finishing his degree in Sports Administration is an unconditional priority for Lucchini.
“I called my mom yesterday and told her the news, and one of the first things she said to me was, ‘Jake, you promised me you’ll finish your degree.’”
The 23-year-old student/athlete enjoyed an incredible career at Michigan Tech and compares the University and its small city of Houghton, Mich. with his hometown Trail.
“It’s great to see how well they (the Smoke Eaters) are doing, I still watch some games, and it’s so cool to see,” he said. “The support of the community is unbelievable. The support of the Trail Smoke Eaters and the support of Michigan Tech community is very similar, they’re die-hard fans and that’s why I love Houghton and Michigan Tech so much because it’s the same as Trail.”
A leader on and off the ice, Lucchini was named the Huskies captain in his senior season, played in 164 career games with the Huskies, scoring 45 goals and 104 points, and led the team to two WCHA championships. He was named to the WCHA All-Rookie Team, earned Top Freshman Award from Michigan Tech, and, to top it off, he was also nominated for the 2019 Hobey Baker Award, given to the NCAA’s best player.
Lucchini played three seasons for the Smoke Eaters from 2012 to 2015, amassing 48 goals and 69 assists for 117 points in 168 career games played. He was named team captain in his final year with Trail and led the team with 35 goals and 83 points, earning MVP considerations, and a BCHL Second Team All-Star honour.
In June 2018, Lucchini attended the Penguins Prospect Development Camp, and made an impression. He hopes for the same results with the AHL Penguins in the upcoming weeks, and, if history is any indication, watch for Lucchini sharing ice time with Sidney Crosby in the not-too-distant future.
“I’m going there (WBS) now, and excited to learn, and just soak everything in, learn from the older guys,” said Lucchini. “Next year I’ll go into camp and work hard. I don’t want to set any big goals or have any expectations because I’ve never really done that. I want to go and try to prove that I deserve what I got, turn some eyes, and make people give me a second look.
“Whether it’s the AHL or East Coast Hockey League or getting a shot at the NHL, I’ll just go in there and work my hardest,” said Lucchini.
NHL/AHL notes: Dryden Hunt, a Nelson product, scored his first NHL goal with the Florida Panthers on Sunday in a 6-1 win over the Detroit Red Wings.
Also, Lucchini and the WBS Penguins will play against the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, with Trail products Travis St. Denis and Connor Jones, on April 2 and 15.