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News: St. Petersburg Times 1/23/98

Lightning Centers Its Hope
By Tim Buckley

Ask why Darcy Tucker was part of the Lightning's six-player trade with Montreal last week and general manager Phil Esposito will pose his answer in the form of a question.
"Would you take a 22-year-old Dale Hunter?"br> Respond in the affirmative and Esposito will maintain his point is made: "Case closed."
That's right, the Lightning believes Tucker has the potential to carve out a career along the lines of the pesky, relentless former Quebec Nordique and longtime Washington Capitals center.
Hunter has proved to be the complete package during his 18-season stint in the NHL, one capped by an All-Star Game appearance last season. Crafty down low, Hunter will dig in the corners, drive to the net and do whatever it takes to create a scoring chance. He is a gritty grinder, one who peaked at 28 goals and never hit 80 points. More than anything, he is a pain to play against.
"He is a Dale Hunter type of player," coach Jacques Demers said the night Tampa Bay acquired Tucker, 22, from Montreal as part of the trade that sent Patrick Poulin, Igor Ulanov and Mick Vukota to the Canadiens. "Though obviously he's not as good as Hunter."
Tucker has had to take big steps to get where he wants.
Though selected in the sixth round by Montreal in 1993 -- at 5 feet 8 and 145 pounds at draft time, size was not on his side -- the Alberta native went on to lead Kamloops of the Western Hockey League to three straight Memorial Cup junior championships.
Tucker was named MVP of the '94 Memorial Cup tournament and top '96 rookie in the American Hockey League. Yet he never made it off Montreal's fourth line last season.
"Darcy has not had a lot of ice time this year, either," said David Wilkie, Tucker's close friend who also came to the Lightning in the trade. "He just wants an opportunity to show what he can do."
Perhaps that is why he is so thankful to be in Tampa Bay, which is last in the NHL and hopes new blood will invigorate it.
"This is a new breath of fresh air for me," Tucker said.
It is the same for the Lightning, on the ice and off.
"I've never been happier, except the day I got engaged," said Tucker, who plans to marry Shannon Corson, the sister of Canadiens star Shayne Corson. "I've got to put in that last part or my fiance will kill me."
Tucker says what he has to, and plenty more.
"I"ve never been known not to take the bull by the horns and step to the front," he said. "In Montreal we had just so many leaders that I was kind of pushed to the background. Here I don't want to step on anybody's toes, but I want to have a say in what's going on."
He has already.
Informed when he arrived how struggling wing Alex Selivanov needed a boost, Tucker has challenged Selivanov from the get-go.
"Be awake out there tonight," he told Selivanov the morning of his first game with the Lightning, a 3-2 overtime loss to Washington on Wednesday. "And how 'bout scoring a goal?"
Selivanov did just that, his first in five games, off a feed pass from his new center, Tucker.
Tucker also had words of encouragement for new linemate Jason Wiemer, whom he played against in the Western League.
"He needs somebody to tell him he's good," Tucker said. "I played against Jason when he was at the peak of his career. He had it all."
Wiemer had a goal against Washington as well, prompting hope perhaps Tucker can bring more out of him and Selivanov. And the better Tucker plays, Demers said, the more he will be able to say. Tucker knows that, too.
"I bring a lot of energy to the table and a lot of enthusiasm," he said. "I know Jacques is enthusiastic, too, so maybe he can bring out the best in me."
If so, even more people may think of Hunter when talking about Tucker. Tucker sure hopes so.
"Everybody says that," he said of the comparison, "but Dale Hunter was a great player. I think I can be that type of player if I work hard."
The Lightning must think he will.
Case closed.

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