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News: Tampa Tribune 10/25/98

Bolts' Tucker Has Game Face On
By Roy Cummings

BRANDON - One look at Darcy Tucker's face will tell you what kind of hockey player he is.
His scraggly brown hair looks like something a drunken sparrow might throw together for a nest, and his heavy black beard looks like it's three days shy of its last shave. His nose is crooked and the swollen red bridge of it is currently being held together by four haphazardly laced stitches. There are scrapes all over his cheeks and forehead and there's a small scar on his upper lip. And, oh yes, his eyes are on fire.
It's not a pretty site, but then again, Tucker's not a pretty player. He's a cement mixer, a player who always has something churning, be it his legs or his mouth or his heart. He's also popular. Real popular.
``We sell more Darcy Tucker jerseys than any other,'' said Brenda Scholl, the co-proprietor of RinkSide Sports, the pro shop that sits inside the Lightning's plush Brandon-based practice facility. ``We already sold one this morning. Some kid came in and got one first thing.''
No surprise there. After all, Tucker is starting to look pretty good around these parts. On a team that has traditionally lacked grit and character and goal scoring, Tucker is suddenly filling the bill in every one of those areas.
He's sticking his nose into scrums, picking fights and pushing his teammates to do better just like he always has. But in addition to his usual contributions, he's also scoring. He has six points, including four in the last two games, and it's safe to say he's as responsible for the Lightning's two-game winning streak as anyone.
``That's one of the best moves I ever made, recommending him to Phil Esposito,'' Lightning GM/coach Jacques Demers said of Tucker, a center who came to the Lightning last season in a trade with Montreal that was engineered almost entirely by Demers. ``I mean, this kid, he's giving us everything right now.''
Tucker always gives his team everything, everything his 5-foot- 11, 180-pound body has, that is. He's a throwback to an era when players like Eddie Shore ruled the league. That's why he won three Memorial Cups, the most by any player, during his junior career and why the Canadiens drafted him (151st overall in 1993) and why Demers wanted him.
``When you see me play you don't see flashy quick and brilliant moves, but that's OK because it's not always skill that gets the job done,'' he said. ``I'm a guy that studies the game and knows what's going on out there. I can't outmuscle guys so I try to outsmart 'em. I try to slow the game down to my pace.''
There was a time not too long ago when Tucker couldn't even keep pace much less control it. As a rookie with the Canadiens, when he wasn't watching from the press box he was watching from the bench as a fourth-liner.
``I was driving myself crazy back then, wondering, `Do I belong? Do I fit in this league?' '' Tucker said. ``I was thinking, `Just send me to the minors and I'll prove myself there.' But I was very fortunate that someone had the foresight to say, `This guy can play here.' ''
That someone was Demers, who knew of Tucker from his days with the Canadiens and knew he was just what a Lightning team lacking in character and grit needed.
What Demers didn't know was that Tucker would eventually become his second center. Tucker slowly moved into that role last season and regained that spot again after starting this season as the third-line center.
``He's not a fourth-liner,'' Demers said. ``He's a good checking- line center, but he's our No. 2 center now because he's getting the job done. He's fearless out there, and you can see it in his eyes when he shows up at the rink at 5 o'clock, this kid means business.''

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