Living by the sword


Darcy Tucker – the wild-eyed Jack Nicholson of the NHL – may have to hang up his skates.

No one who saw Tucker play during his 13 seasons in the NHL will forget his reckless, rage-fueled style of play.

Hit, and get hit. Rock-em-sock-em. Go hard or go home. Live by the sword, die by the sword.

That was how Tucker played, and the less cerebral hockey fans of Toronto loved him for it. A smaller guy who somehow painted himself as a perpetual underdog, Tucker always played like he had some crazy point to prove. A constant yapper and whiner, he never met a ref he couldn’t get on the wrong side of.

Personally, I found his style of play exasperating, and here’s why: I didn’t believe in it. The Leafs of the Mats Sundin era were, like their endlessly talented leader, better as skilled players than goons. And the guy acting like the bull-goose goon (ably abetted by Corson, Domi, Green, and other mouthy scrappers) was never the real Darcy Tucker to me.

2010-03-04-The_ShiningThe real Darcy Tucker was actually a gifted scorer with a good pair of hands, and when he kept to the game plan he could pot goals with the best of them, several times exceeding 20 goals in a season. In the WHL he was twice a fifty-goal-a-season scorer. Why the berserker act, The Shining on ice?

It’s not just that throwing the body recklessly makes for bad-looking hockey. It’s that it’s a really ineffective use of energy and talent. Tucker seemed to take a run at anything that moved, in the process missing at least as often as he hit.

The resounding smack of him hitting the boards while his quarry skated off with the puck was the sound of missed opportunity. It’s a shame to watch a guy waste his talent and wear down his body, playing dumb. Especially when you know he’s got what it takes to win playing smart.

Lots of fans, especially Leafs fans are suckers for this sort of thing. Wendel Clark was a gifted playmaker and leader who loved to take the body – but Wendel’s body was done in when other guys his age were just hitting their prime. And if rock-em sock-em hockey won Stanley Cups, Carolina wouldn’t have a cup and Detroit wouldn’t have become a dynasty.

Hockey rewards toughness, but it rewards craftiness even more. True legends like Gordie Howe, who was no shrinking violet, lived by their wits above all. You live by the sword, you die by the sword. Tucker, to his great credit, knew that. Off the ice he seemed calm, philosophical, even personable about his play. I liked Darcy Tucker in interviews. He was, after all, a professional – though he may be no longer.

The fact is, the Darcy Tucker approach still sells tickets – even if it’s ineffective. Tucker’s entirely respectable career 476 points pales next to his plus/minus, a whopping -86.

Not to mention that he may be making an early exit from the ice.

Yet as Darcy Tucker’s star fades, imitators of his style of play are popping up all over. Brash, belligerent guys who skate with their elbows up and are always ready to take a run at someone.

One is running for mayor of the city of Toronto. Rob Ford seems to be counting on the never-ending love of the Leafs fans for the Darcy Tucker style of play.

Good luck with that. Better keep your head up.

There’s always someone out there waiting to take a run at you, too.

And make sure you have a good retirement plan. You may be done before you know it.

Just ask Darcy Tucker.


Photo credits: Darcy Tucker photos by Dave Abel, Toronto Sun; speech balloon by Kerrin McNamara.

The Shining DVD cover, HO

8 comments on “Living by the sword

  1. Nice to see something in print that I have suspected all along – that Toronto’s goon play is/was popular with the less intellectually well endowed amongst us.

    In my city, I never met a doctor, lawyer or professor who was a Maple Leaf fan, but sanitation workers, dishwashers and drywallers abound who proudly wear their Leaf caps and jerseys for all to see. Lovely guys, I’m sure, but not likely to be found tutoring algebra in their spare time.

    Coincidence? Maybe, but I doubt it.

  2. I find it intresting that you lump yourself in with the intellectually well endowed crowd even though you are only a very minor “columnist”. Rather arrogant of you I must say. I just spent 2 minutes reading your drivel. Yes I actually read your other columns on this highly intelectual web site. The one thing that I can say for Darcy Tucker that I can’t say for you is that Darcy gave 110% whenever he hit the ice. Like him or not he gave everything he had on a nightly basis. After reading your columns I can’t say the same for you. When you have a career worthy of people remembering you then I’ll say you are in a class with Darcy Tucker. Untill then concern yourself with being a nerd. Your own words.

  3. Thanks for the comments; they appear to represent the bookends of this argument. “Sensible one” I can’t agree with your notion that you can tell somebody’s intellect by the job they do. I’ve met a lot of total idiots with multiple degrees and a lot of brilliant people working in labour, service or the trades.

    Capthook, I guess I’m arrogant enough not to lump myself in with the “less cerebral” folk who appreciated Tucker’s style of play.

    I’ve demonstrated why that’s so: look at the numbers. You’ve said nothing to counteract that point.

    As for how much effort I give it – how do you know? If you’re judging by the results – my “minor columnist” status, well maybe, like Tucker, my 110% effort is just wrongly placed.

    And maybe he and I will be remembered for the same reasons: taking runs at things. I’m open to that criticism. But I won’t take your calling me a nerd as an insult.

    You read my column, several of them it appears. I’ll take that as a compliment.

  4. Hey Cappthook

    There are probably lots of people who will remember David Newland. I did 1 min of research and found his bio here:

    Looks like he’s pretty successful to me.

  5. a reader

    If by successful, you mean skilled at writing his own PR and fortunate to have had a bunch of good opportunities in nerdy pursuits like new media, folk music, and ukulele…

    Then yes. Yes I am. Thanks for the google search.


  6. Nice article. And to the point. The way you describe Tucker and his talent around the net when he applied himself could also be written about another nutbar named Sean Avery.

    I could never quite see the point in his hell-bent-for-election approach to the game which, all too often, wound up with him delivering an illegal check (like the one last season which got him suspended – again) and costing his team a goal by being forced to play a man short – often for 5 minutes – at a most inopportune time in the game.

    But the ironic part is, the Leafs fans STILL get on Daniel Alfredsson for delivering a similar hit to Tucker what, some seven years ago!! (I doubt if half of them even know why they’re doing it to this day, but clearly they are oblivious to the fact that Toronto happens to be one of the teams Alfreddson “owns” in terms if career points. You want the Leafs to win? Shut up.

    At least the Leafs aren’t giving him a “night” such as they did with Domi – one of the most excruciatingly painful things I ever watched on TV.

  7. I hate and love being a Leafs fan. All the constant, undeserved, bashing and PRAISE makes for interesting reading day in and out. They will make the playoff, they won’t yadda yadda. The fact; Tucker was in his prime years while playing for Toronto. During those years Toronto made the playoffs.

    He may not have been the most defensive of players, I can probably name players who do nothing but score goals and are just as bad defensively, but he had his game and it worked for him. He did play in the NHL and made millions of dollars for it and you can’t deny that.

    I accept Tucker for what he was, a bonehead who could score goals and wore his heart on his sleeve. He was entertaining to watch, and, he helped the Leafs win some games back when they were fun to watch. I’d rather watch a team of Darcy Tuckers then watch the Devils play the trap.

  8. Darcy Tucker was my favourite player in high school/college. Why? Well, partially because he was pretty, but because he was exciting to watch and he had heart. I loved the Leafs then and during those years they made the playoffs and seemed like they had a chance of going somewhere. They were exciting to watch and Tucker was a big part of that.

    Did he make stupid decisions? Oh, heavens yes and I always thought that he had more potential than was ever explored, but the hard facts were he was on the small side for the NHL and while being a goal scorer was great–he was drafted low despite being so successful in the WHL and went nowhere in the early years of his career, once he became the scrappy player he was known to be, that’s when he found success. He became what he had to to succeed in the NHL, maybe he could have been more, but the reality is what it was.

    Plus I like the scrappy guys.

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