Jarid Lukosevicius: the grit the Pioneers need to sustain a deep second-half run

 Photo courtesy Shannon Valerio

Jarid Lukosevicius. The name evokes familiarity in the context of his hat trick for the University of Denver Pioneers in the 2017 national championship and as ‘American Hero Troy Terry’s roommate.’ Beyond the extraordinary feat and whimsical title, Lukosevicius has worked to establish himself as an embodiment of the resilient and relentless attributes linked with the culture and identity of DU hockey.

Pronounced, ‘Loo-koh-savages,’ and nicknamed ‘Luko’ for short, the left winger has enhanced his play as a dynamic grinder among the Pioneer’s lineup. In the past seven games of the 2017-18 season alone, Lukosevicius has amassed eight points on five goals and three assists to contribute to his season total of 21 points (12 goals, nine assists).

While the junior is reaping the opportunities sent his way, his production wasn’t immediate at the start of the season.

“I feel like even in the first half [of the season] I was working hard, the points just weren’t coming,” Lukosevicius said. “I wasn’t really dwelling on it. There was a stretch where I wasn’t playing good hockey, right before Christmas, it wasn’t my best hockey. Now I’m starting to figure out just how to stick to reloading and shooting pucks. I feel like that’s working.”

With a 5-foot-10, 199-pound frame, Lukosevicius takes pride in his gritty play and commitment to working hard throughout every shift, every battle, and every chance across every inch of his 200-foot game. His relentless play was not recently learned. From his midget days with the Vancouver NW Giants to his career in the British Columbia Hockey League (BCHL), Lukosevicius has manifested the role of a grinder.

“It was always ingrained in me I guess,” Lukosevicius said. “Pioneer hockey is kind of like that go hard to the net style. I just kept doing what I had been doing, but harder. I didn’t really do it in practice in the BCHL. I feel like now that I’m doing that in practice it’s translating in games.”

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Lukosevicius shielding Colorado College goalie Alex Leclerc – photo courtesy of Shannon Valerio

Kent Lewis, who formerly was the head coach and general manager for 18 seasons of the BCHL Powell River Kings, recalls the character and savvy that separated Lukosevicius from his teammates and competition.

“The thing about Luko is; he was unique,” Lewis said. “I’ve coached hundreds upon hundreds of kids and he wasn’t the biggest, he took a lot of real hard hits, but was resilient. He wasn’t shy or one of those scared guys. He’s got an element of grease to him which is unique. That’s what you see there [in Denver], he’s feisty. He’ll take a pounding and he’ll still go to the tough areas.”

When recruiting the Squamish, British Columbia native, DU head coach Jim Montgomery saw the wholesome condition as well as the potential the budding skater offered.

“In recruiting, I thought he just had really good offensive instincts,” Jim Montgomery said. “He could shoot the puck well, had a nose for the net, but also made a lot of plays. I describe him as a hockey player. That’s the best compliment that I think you can give a hockey player. He’s someone that I felt we would win with and it’s panned out that way.”

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Lukosevicius crashing the net against Dartmouth College – photo courtesy of Shannon Valerio

Lukosevicius has earned himself a top-line spot at left-wing alongside star classmates, Dylan Gambrell and Troy Terry. The trio contributes to the success as the current highest-scoring junior class in the nation with 123 points on 43 goals and 80 assists. Lukosevicius is also on Denver’s top powerplay unit. The Pioneers are tied with the best home powerplay percentage in the NCAA at 34% (21/69).

While Lukosevicius is currently playing some of his best hockey for the Crimson and Gold, his production and ice-time are attributed to his unwavering dedication to better himself season-by-season.

“As a coach, it’s something you take a lot of pride in,” Montgomery said. “He was a little overwhelmed. Being a college student and playing Division l hockey, it was an eye-opener for him. I give him credit because he quickly changed his habits and his attitude. He became an everyday practice player which allowed him to have success in our run to the [2016] Frozen Four. Then he came back the next year and he had an incredible summer. That’s how his work ethic helps him improve so much over the years. His dedication in the weight room and his ability to be a great complimentary winger along top lines. Obviously, I don’t think he’s someone anyone likes to play against because of how hard he is to play against and because he goes to tough areas.”

His ascendance to the top-line hasn’t gone unnoticed by his teammates. Troy Terry is appreciative of the juncture to skate with his best friend and roommate.

“Just the way he’s [Lukosevicius] matured from freshman year to now; off the ice, on the ice,” Terry said. “If you watched him freshman year [to now], you’d think he was a totally different player, he’s just developed so much. He’s fun for me to play with. I can put the puck anywhere and he’ll be able to shoot it right off the pass. He’s developed into such a good goal-scorer.”

The inseparable pair each executed extraordinary accomplishments individually, that led to a broader victory. Terry led Team USA to its fourth World Juniors Championship gold medal on Jan. 5, 2017 after scoring five-hole, four times. Terry was dubbed, “Five-Hole Terry” and “American Hero Troy Terry” as a sensation across the country for scoring three-consecutive shootout goals in the semifinal game against Russia and once more to secure the 5-4 title victory over Canada.

Highlights of Troy Terry WJC five-hole goals

Just three months and three days later, Lukosevicius would lift the Pioneers to clinch their eighth-national title over the University of Minnesota-Duluth as he scored a hat trick in the 3-2 victory. The successes bolstered the friendship between Terry and Lukosevicius.

Video courtesy of Denver Athletics

“It’s awesome,” Terry said. “He was obviously very supportive of me last year. There were actually t-shirts made of me and him and it says, ‘That’s my roommate.’ He was so proud of me and I’m so proud of him. He’s come such a long way and to see how well he’s doing. To see him get attention from a lot of places, is just so awesome for me. Just the growth he’s had and the player he’s turned into.”

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Terry (#19) and Lukosevicius (#14) celebrating after Lukosevicius scored one of his three goals against UMD – photo courtesy of Shannon Valerio

As the former leader for game-winning goals in the NCAA with eight during the 2017 season and the first player to score a hat trick in the national championship game since Montgomery, fittingly did so for his alma mater, the University of Maine in the 1993 national championship, the past is to be relished, but not fastened on.

Since Lukosevicius’ freshman year, the Pioneers have posted rewarding second-half of the season results, leading to deep runs in the NCAA tournament. With experience in his favor, Lukosevicius and the team are focusing on incremental successes to scale upon a potential repeat title. Winning back-to-back championships is an immensely challenging feat that will require the persistence and grit that radiates from number 14.

“We tell the guys [underclassmen] that we can’t be complacent. It’s only going to get harder from here on out,” Lukosevicius said. “Especially this weekend, Duluth is playing some of their best hockey. It’s going to be a tough weekend, but it’s going to be a fun challenge. If we stick to the process things will work out.”

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