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.
The 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