"He Plays He Bleeds"

Tucker revives fading Leafs

Says Maurice:`He plays, he bleeds’
January 02, 2007
Rosie DiManno

He got hammered by Paul Mara, ridden into the boards with a stick between his legs, knee twisted awkwardly and noggin rattled good, all crumpled up in pain. Lay there with the birds tweet-tweeting around his head.

Shortly afterwards, other corner, it was Andrew Alberts who jammed an elbow into his brow, raising an immediate robin’s egg lump, the blood dribbling, another tapestry of stitches.

Typical outing for Darcy Tucker, in other words. Playing under the delusion that he’s 6-foot-4 and indestructible, rather than 5-foot-10 and at just as susceptible to harm as the next guy.

“He plays, he bleeds,” said coach Paul Maurice, after the Leafs whacked Boston 5-1, fine start to a New Year’s rejuvenation that is desperately needed ’round these parts.

“Other guys sweat it out. He just bleeds a lot.”

Tucker’s participation was a game-time decision and had appeared less than likely, his left foot a tracery of hairline fissures after absorbing a hard shot last week, sidelined two games. While he won’t confirm it, the aching dog had been injected with painkillers, numbing all senses.

“That’s between me and the medical staff.”

But the always-game Tucker took the pre-game skate, convinced himself he could make a go of it.

Gives the team an amphetamine jolt, that kind of grit.

“It’s a great boost for the whole team,” said Mats Sundin, who knows a thing or two about injury resilience and premature resurrection.

“It shows a lot of character. We all know that Darcy is that kind of player. He comes in even though he’s hurt and he got another cut in this game, stitches in the forehead. That breeds energy into the rest of the group. Like, if he can be out there, then we can all play better.”

His name did not figure into the scoresheet on this evening, but Tucker’s presence was keenly felt.

In the early going – before Toronto surged ahead with five unanswered goals – it was Tucker’s liveliness that infused jump and jam into the whole affair, buzzing around the net, messing things up along the boards, pestering, a bantam cock on the wing and on the fly.

What might not be so evident to the casual spectator, though, was the jabber-juice that Tucker brings to the bench, an endless yammer of urging and verbal encouragement, his own rendition of the Satanic Verses.

“He’s such an intense guy and a real positive influence on the bench,” said Maurice, noting Tucker’s evolution from loose cannon to buoying and stabilizing factor. “He’s evolved into a bit of an elderly statesman.”

The stitches, the body pounding, the rambunctious intensity – that’s par for the course. Without it, Tucker would be a player more ordinary rather than one on the verge of his 20th goal, midway into this campaign, team leader in that category, all of it fodder for the new contract he’s seeking. But that, really, isn’t the issue.

“Yeah, I fell into the boards and I got cut tonight. But I’ll take that to be back out there with the guys. I’ve always believed that if there’s any possible way to get out there and play, then you do it.”

There is an onus, Tucker recognizes, on players such as him, with this team, especially at this juncture, as the timeframe for redemption begins to narrow. It is a grasp of things, as they really are, that he shares with his captain.

“We’re similar in some ways. We feel responsible for the hockey club. So you find ways to play, whatever it takes. I don’t think you can measure, sometimes, veterans in the lineup by what they do just on the ice. Sometimes, it’s what can be added to the team in other departments.

“I’ve been here a long time. I just want to try to show that we need everybody to win here. We have to get some urgency in our game and understand that, especially in our division, these points mean a lot. You can’t be giving them away, like we’ve been doing.”

There will be a few days now, before the Leafs confront Boston again on Thursday, for Tucker to rest up that ailing foot. “Go home, put it in a bucket of ice.”

A champagne bucket, perchance.


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