Former Trail Smoke Eaters captain Jake Lucchini learned last week that he won’t be going back to work this summer.
The American Hockey League did the expected, cancelling the remainder of its season and playoffs because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The AHL made the announcement following a vote by its board of governors.
“You could see where it was going,” said Lucchini. “From what I’ve been hearing, the American Hockey League is gate driven so there wasn’t really any chance we were going to be able to play. It’s really unfortunate, I want to play and I’m sure everyone else does, but you have to look at the bigger picture.”
The 25-year-old forward plays for the Laval Rocket, the AHL affiliate of the Montreal Canadiens, and returned to his home in Trail in March, after the season came to a halt due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“It’s actually the longest I’ve been home in five years,” said Lucchini. “Our season was cancelled the middle of March and might not start up until December, so it will be interesting to see what will happen.”
Lucchini was just settling in with his new AHL team, after being traded by the Wilkes Barre-Scranton Penguins in a four-player trade along with Joseph Blandisi on February 20.
“I got traded, and I was there for about a month, I think I played eight games. I was just getting to know the guys on the team and the coaches, and getting more comfortable and this happened.”
Last week, outgoing league president and CEO David Andrews said in a statement that the NHL’s top minor league simply ran out of time.
“After a lengthy review process, the American Hockey League has determined that the resumption and completion of the 2019-20 season is not feasible in light of current conditions.”
The AHL paused its schedule March 12, following the NHL’s lead in the aftermath of an NBA player testing positive for COVID-19.
Lucchini was making an impression in Laval, as the Trail native led the sixth-place North Division team to its fourth straight victory.
The talented forward scored twice and earned the first star in his penultimate game, a 5-1 win over the Erie Monsters, and scored another goal in what would be the Rockets last game on Mar. 8, a 3-0 victory over the North Division leading Bellville Senators.
The Rockets lost just one game since Lucchini and Blandisi’s arrival, and were just four points out of a playoff spot heading down the stretch. Lucchini contributed four goals and five points in his eight games with the Rocket, and put up 11 goals and 20 points in 61 games in his second AHL season.
Another Trail native and former Smoke Eater, Travis St. Denis, plays for the Brideport Sound Tigers, the N.Y. Islanders affiliate. St. Denis, 26, was in his fourth season with the Tigers, and counted 13 goals and 29 points in 60 games this past campaign.
Two more former Smoke Eaters, Scott Davidson played in 33 games with the South Carolina Stingrays of the ECHL, while Craig Martin skated in 41 games with the ECHL Jacksonville Icemen and also await news on its future.
For Lucchini, a Michigan Tech grad, the trade from a Pennsylvania industrial town to the historic city just outside of Montreal turned out to be a positive move.
He now plays in an NHL calibre arena, in front of hockey-crazed Laval fans and a packed house almost every night; and Jake is also closer to his brother Jeremy, who attends and plays hockey for York University in Toronto, home of the AHL Marlies.
The Rocket games are also broadcast on RDS, the Quebecois version of TSN, so the team gets a lot of exposure and support from Quebec fans.
Lucchini is a restricted free agent (RFA) this summer, and expects to return to the Montreal affiliate when play resumes next season.
“Hopefully they qualify me,” said Lucchini. “I loved it there, and I hope they give me the opportunity to return.
“They have a really good organization. As far as I know, I think things went well, and if I keep working hard, hopefully I get a shot one day.”
The NHL intends to salvage its season in some form this summer, but the AHL, which is a largely gate-driven entity, could not continue.
The AHL is made up of 31 franchises either owned by or affiliated with NHL clubs.
There are four teams based in Canada – the Laval Rocket, Belleville Senators, Toronto Marlies and Manitoba Moose.