Darcy Tucker brings a flash of light to what many consider a team in transition. Barring some unforeseen miracle, the Tampa Bay Lightning will finish with the worst record in the National Hockey League for the second consecutive year. However, all is not lost. As coach and general manager Jacques Demers constantly reminds us, the future of the franchise is in the young talent which he has assembled. This talent base includes Tucker.
Following a 4-3 loss to the St. Louis Blues on February 24, Tucker reflected on the perils of playing for a franchise which has clearly had its share of problems, both on an off the ice.
"It's especially tough when we play well like we did tonight," said Tucker. "We have too many bad breaks. It's the way it's been going for us all year.
"It's maddening. As a team, we lose too many games."
Losing is not something which Tucker is accustomed. After winning three Memorial Cup Championships as a member of the WHL's Kamloops Blazers, he was drafted by the Montreal Canadiens with their sixth-round selection (151st overall). For a young player who has consistently been with storied franchises, the move to Tampa could have been detrimental to his growth as a player. However, Tucker views playing for the Lightning as an honor, and hopes to still be a part of the team when it achieves success.
"It's been tough, a learning experience, that's how I am taking it," said Tucker. "I could look at it as a disappointment, but I'd rather look at it as a learning experience. I am a young guy and maybe I need to go through this or the team needs to go through this and when we play in the Stanley Cup finals, it'll make it all the more sweeter for us."
This is Tucker's third season in the NHL, and already he is being viewed as a team leader. When Rob Zamuner, the Lightning's captain, went out of the lineup with a groin injury, Tucker wore the "C" in his absence. He refuses to get down on the young players.
"They're learning. You have to remember we're a young team. Sometimes young players try too hard, and when they do that, the over exuberance causes them to make mistakes. I went through the same thing when I played in Montreal. When I was there I made a lot of mistakes from trying too hard, making the fancy play, and it cost us. We have to keep it simple. We'll go through more tough times as we get better."
On the ice, Tucker plays with a great deal of enthusiasm. At the time of this writing, he is second on the team in scoring with 15 goals and 17 assists, and first in penalty minutes with 141. He is most often remembered for a fight last season with Pittsburgh's Darius Kasparaitis, a long-time nemesis.
"Darius plays the game with a lot of passion, the same as I do," said Tucker. "I study the game of hockey and work hard. I'm a little more of a fighter; he's more of a hitter and gets under people's skin, but he is not willing to drop the gloves. Fighting is part of the game, and it's something I enjoy. We got into a fight last year because he was going after people's knees. I had to teach him a lesson - and I did.
"I am a feisty guy, a competitor and that's part of the game, getting involved and being involved in the game. I don't take too many minor penalties. Most of mine come from fighting or roughing. I am not a fancy guy who will make an unbelievable pass; I will make my points from going to the net."
Off the ice, Tucker considers himself a quiet, family-man. He and his wife, Shannon, expect their first child at the end of March. His wife is the sister of Montreal's Shayne Corson, who is considered by Tucker to be as close as a brother. As for their on-ice battles, Tucker said that is out of the question.
"Me and Shane have a working agreement to keep our sticks down and our heads up," said Tucker. "We love each other like brothers; we are both competitors. We are both family-oriented. He gave his sister away when we got married. It was a great day because their father passed away in 1993 and he went through a hard time, and for him to give his sister away was a big honor.
"I am starting a family now. My wife is having a baby. The due date is the 21st of March. That's kind of taking up all of my time. I'm not the kind of guy that has a hobby or anything. Once in a while, I'll play some golf. Other than that, I have a cottage in Ontario in the summer time. I'll go on the boat and relax, spend time with my family and enjoy the off-season."
For the third season in a row, the Lightning will miss the playoffs. But for now, the players are concentrating on finishing the season strong. In one four-game stretch, they defeated the Coyotes, Flyers, and Avalanche, all of whom are considered to be in the running for the Stanley Cup.
"We seem to get up for those games, that's when we play the best; we have something to prove," explained Tucker. "It's kind of nice to see the guys play well together and hustle as we did tonight (2-1 victory over Colorado)."
Asked how he felt on being the centerpiece of a tribute issue, Tucker replied: "It's very nice, especially for me. I came a long way to get to where I am today. It's been a long hard road. I'm a small guy that never really was given a chance to fulfill my dream when I was younger. At every level they said I was not good enough to play at the next level. It's really gratifying for me to feel that people recognized how hard I work out there. I love the game and it's something that's never going to diminish."