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Two views on Darcy Tucker

 

Dave Stubbs and Joe O'Connor go head2head.<br>

 
 
 
 

Tucker gets his nose dirty with young Avs

Dave Stubbs, Montreal Gazette

The first memory for many who have played for the Canadiens is of looking up at the arena banners that celebrate Stanley Cup championships and the legends who produced them.

Others speak of their first visit to the dressing room - the "from failing hands ..." motto excerpted from John McCrae's poem In Flanders Fields, or the portraits of the Hall of Famers staring down from the walls, unblinking.

Darcy Tucker has a different memory. He was a teenager when he reported to his first Canadiens training camp during the early-1990s after being selected in the sixth round (151st overall) of the '93 entry draft.

"I remember the Forum stick room, seeing everyone's name stamped on their sticks," Tucker said. "I was like, 'Wow, I need that. That's got to happen for me one day.' "

It did long ago for Tucker, who's stencilled his name on a 13-season NHL career that's taken him from Montreal to Tampa Bay, Toronto and the Colorado Avalanche.

Of course, Canadiens fans loathe him. They booed him lustily at the Bell Centre on Thursday - he played 16:28, took minors for roughing and high-sticking, served a too-many-men bench minor, had two shots and recorded one hit.

Just as this building cheered wildly in 2006 when then-Canadien Alex Kovalev skated miles to memorably lay out the Maple Leaf with a flying elbow in a bid to convert Tucker's head into a bowling ball.

But fans in this city adored Tucker's robust brand of hockey when he wore the CH for 115 games from 1995-97, a clenched fist on skates who to this day can change the complexion of a match with one banging shift or a single yappy monologue.

Fans in the Forum saw Tucker play his first NHL game on Jan. 13, 1996, a 3-3 tie against the St. Louis Blues and his future brother-in-law, Shayne Corson.

"I played on a line with Turner Stevenson and Donald Brashear," he reminisced before he was corrected. It was, in fact, Chris Murray and Marc Bureau.

"Really? That's scary," Tucker joked of the trio. "But I do remember my first shift was against Brett Hull and (Corson). They scored a goal that was disallowed in the days before video replay. The puck went in the net, they didn't stop the play and away we went."

His first of eight goals for the Canadiens - he has 208 through 883 games - came in Los Angeles on

Nov. 7, 1996, in a 4-1 Canadiens loss.

"Assisted by Murray and Brian Savage," he said of his maiden NHL score.

At 34, Tucker still contributes handsomely to the jersey he wears. Through six games for the surprisingly strong Avalanche, he has three goals (two on the power play), two assists and got his nose dirty with 15 penalty minutes.

Yesterday, Tucker took a look back and ahead as Colorado phenom Matt Duchene, 18, held court for reporters one stall to his left after the morning skate.

Tucker's eight-year tenure in Toronto had ended meekly last spring, uncharacteristically so, after he'd played 531 games for the Maple Leafs. He had scored only 18 goals during a 34-point 2008-09 season, his second-worst campaign in Toronto, and was bought out by a rebuilding organization.

(On Tuesday, with $1 million of his $2.25-million salary being paid by the Maple Leafs, he was celebrated in Toronto with a scoreboard tribute that drew a standing ovation. Tucker responded with a moist-eyed wave and went out to score a goal and add an assist in Colorado's 4-1 victory.)

Toronto's postseason kiss-off was a cruel blow for the skating mouth who'd raised a young family in a city where he was enormously popular. But the Avalanche was happy to roll the free-agency dice, understanding the leadership value of a veteran on a team that features two teens in Duchene and Ryan O'Reilly.

Not that Tucker sees in them a reflection of the player who gazed wide-eyed into a Forum stick room all those autumns ago.

"They're pretty phenomenal," he said of Duchene and O'Reilly. "Our young guys not only bring a really good skill level, but an energy about them."

In Tucker, Avalanche coach Joe Sacco sees a player who "brings experience, leadership and grit to our lineup. ... I like the way he's helping our young guys."

Not necessarily the direction Tucker would choose, mind you. That would be full-bore into the corner, the opposing goaltender or the Zamboni if necessary - loved by some fans, hated by others and entirely delighted to perform for both. Healthy Tucker back with a vengeance

Joe O'Connor, National Post

TORONTO - Darcy Tucker was a wild-eyed madman for the Toronto Maple Leafs. A super-pest, a circus act, a small, nasty bundle of balled-up menace who, when healthy, competed like a giant.

"When I first got here the team was looking for a player like myself," Tucker said while sitting in the visitors' dressing room of the Air Canada Centre. "I have always been, pretty much, a blue-collar player, and anything I have ever achieved in my career has been through hard work."

Blue collar. Hard working. Gritty. All the things that Leafs general manager Brian Burke wants his team to be. But Toronto does not have Tucker anymore, even if the Leafs are still paying him US$1-million a season--for the next five years -- to be an elder statesman with the Colorado Avalanche.

Tucker's severance package kicked in when Burke's predecessor, Cliff Fletcher, booted the 34-year-old to the curb by buying out the final three years of his contract in June 2008, ending an eight-year run in Toronto.

At the time, it was a rational, defensible decision for a franchise with money to burn. Tucker scored 18 goals for the Leafs in 2007-08, six fewer than he had scored the year before, and 10 shy of the career-high 28 he notched in 2005-06. The little bundle of truculence was bothered by nagging injuries, and while they did not keep Tucker out of the lineup much -- he played 74 games his final season with the Leafs -- they prevented him from playing like Darcy Tucker.

"I have tried to block that last year in Toronto out," Tucker said. "I had a few injuries. The bottom line is, when your team doesn't make the playoffs and you are a part of that, things are going to happen."

He never wanted to believe a buyout was coming, and it blew his perfect world apart. Toronto was home. His wife was happy here, and his kids were growing up in a city mad for the Maple Leafs, where their father was a player the fans adored.

Toronto fans have not forgotten him either. They gave Tucker a standing ovation midway through the first period, and on his next shift out, he drew on assist on Brett Clark's power-play goal.

"I wanted to remain a Maple Leaf," Tucker said. "It was difficult to pick up the pieces after I left. It was tough."

And it showed. Tucker had eight goals and 16 points in 63 games in his Avalanche debut. It was the worst performance of his career, and it made Fletcher look like a sage for buying him out when he did.

But a funny thing happened this past summer. Tucker unplugged from hockey. He hid away at his cottage in the Muskokas and went back to Denver feeling renewed. In Colorado's first five games, he had two goals and 11 penalty minutes.

"Darcy has done a real good job for us," Colorado coach Joe Sacco said. "His game has been good. He knows his role."

It is the same role he has played for years. Blue collar. Hard working. Gritty. And, now, a million-dollar-a-season reminder for Burke and the Leafs that there is more to truculence than simply talking about it.