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News: Tonight On Ice - Volume 6 / Number 36 4/4/98

In Your Face
By Erik Erlendsson

If Darcy Tucker were to take a hike near the beach and came upon a cliff, he would likely be daring enough to walk right on the edge. If Tucker encountered Eric Lindros grappling in the corner for a puck, it is guaranteed Tucker would not back down...
It is that type of in-your-face, life-on-the-edge attitude that has turned Tucker into a Lightning fan favorite, and earned him the reputation as one of the hardest working players in Tampa Bay.
At five-foot-eleven, 180 pounds, he could be Claude Lemieux without the size, and Dale Hunter without as many penalty minutes. He will get in your face to the point where he frustrates you out of your game. And it has always been that way.
"Everbody hated playing against him, he was definitely one of the top guys that people wanted to kill," said Jason Wiemer, who played against Tucker in the Western Hockey League for two seasons.
"When he first came to play for us, he was a 140-pound, mouthy little kid that showed no respect to anybody," said David Wilkie, who has been Tucker's teammate and best friend for seven years.
"Now he is a 180-pound mouthy little kid," former Lightning defenseman Bryan Marchment said.
But Tucker makes no excuses for the way he plays. He would have it no other way.
"I may take it to the extremes sometimes, and people may not like that," Tucker said. "But I would do anything to win. That willingness to do anything is what drives me. Sometimes I will play with an injury that others would not, but I don't like to watch from the stands."
That style of play made Tucker one of the most respected, if not most hated, players in the Western Hockey League. With Kamloops, Tucker won three Memorial Cups and was named Memorial Cup MVP in 1994.
Success did not happen overnight, however. Tucker said he did a lot of growing up during those early days playing junior hockey.
Growing up on his parents' ranch in Castor, Alberta, Tucker knew nothing of life in the big city when he left home at age 15. He did not know he would have to blend in his studies with hockey. He did not know how to drive a car. He did not realize how difficult it would be to make friends on his new team.
"I cried almost every night for two months," Tucker said. "When you go to play junior hockey, all of the sudden you look around and see that you are on your own. It is a difficult situation."
Leaving home was the most difficult thing for Tucker. He was very close to his family, but his father urged him to go.
"My father kind of lived his dream through me because he had the chance to play professional hockey, but he didn't want to leave my mother behind. I really admired him for that," Tucker said.
After being selected in the eighth round by the Montreal Canadiens in 1993, he had a three-game tryout with Montreal before he was sent down to Fredericton of the American Hockey League. Rather than sulk about being sent down to the minors, Tucker talked things over with his father and decided he was going to make sure he stuck in the NHL.
He responded by being named AHL Rookie-of-the-Year in 1996 and scored 23 of his 29 goals after December.
"I want to be the guy that the coach looks to in the last minute of the game to be out there on the ice," Tucker said. "I don't want to be one of those fringe players."
Tucker said that he gets his feistiness from his father, whom he described as a scrappy player with better skills than Tucker possesses. But Tucker makes up for any lack of skill with his work ethic and desire on the ice.
"Darcy Tucker is the type of player that every coach wishes he had on his team," Lightning coach Jacques Demers said. "He is a great character player that competes on the ice night in and night out."
"A lot of people in juniors though, 'Who is that cocky little kid?' But he always backed it up with his play," Wilkie said. "He has never been one to back down from anything. And he is always yapping out there on the ice. He plays in-your-face hockey."
"You have to respect what he does. He goes out and works hard on every shift. He plays with his heart on his sleeve."
Though he admits he borders on the line of being labeled a dirty player at times, Tucker has established himself as one of the top two centers on the team.
"It is very difficult for him to accept losing," Demers said. "And when we build a winner here, he will be a big part of the process. We already know he can play on a winning team. If we win a Stanley Cup here, he will be one of our top defensive players."
While winning all though Memorial Cups in Kamloops, Tucker learned something else in hockey - how to be a leader.
"My second and third years in Kamloops when I was a big part of those teams, I think that's when I took my leadership role," Tucker said. "I don't accept guys who don't play as hard as me, I won't accept that as a player. When I see somebody who is not playing as hard as I am, it is hard for me not to express that to someone else and make them play as hard as I am."
"It is definitely good to have him on your team. He is fun to watch," Wiemer said. "Anytime you see someone like Tucky out there sacrificing himself everyday like he does, it makes everyone else on the team raise his level that much more."

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