Darcy Tucker is just one of the dads at the OHL combine

Former Toronto Maple Leaf Darcy Tucker. (Canadian Press)

OSHAWA, Ont. – Dozens of fathers took the day off work to watch dozens of sons who took a day off school at the GM Centre in Oshawa Friday.

The best known father in attendance made an even bigger commitment.

He actually switched jobs last summer so that he could be there.

The OHL Development Combine invited a lot of the top talents eligible for the coming midget draft and of course family wouldn’t miss the opportunity to see their teenagers lob medicine balls and run around pylons. While a lot of fathers were living and dying with every measurement in the broad and vertical jumps, Darcy Tucker looked on bemused more than anything.

“I don’t think I would have done very well at this back when I was going into junior,” the former NHL veteran said. “I wasn’t doing gym work. I wasn’t riding a stationary bike. I was working on the family farm in Alberta.”

Tucker resisted any urge to say that he knew what his son Cole was going through because, in this case, the son is the first to have participated in any sort of combine.

“I wasn’t invited to the NHL combine [as a draft-eligible junior], but I know when we did team fitness testing [in Kamloops] I didn’t do very well compared to a lot of guys.”

Cole Tucker, though, did his homework in advance of the physical testing.

“Whenever I’d go to the gym, I would get on the bike and set the resistance as high as it could go and I’d go for as long as I could, because I knew that this was coming,” the younger Tucker said at the end of a long day. “I wanted to make a good impression here.”

Some are bound to ask: Why? The value of combines of any sort, coming out of minor midget or even before the NHL draft, makes for healthy debate, but Mike Kelly, GM of the Guelph Storm, defended the idea of putting the kids through the various exertions.

“I actually am more interested in the off-ice testing than I am in the session on the ice,” said Kelly, whose team owns the first pick in the OHL draft. “This year I saw 240 minor-midget games. I saw all these players right through the playoffs. I have a pretty good idea of what they’re going to do on the ice tomorrow, but today [in the off-ice testing] I can get an idea of who looks like an athlete and who doesn’t. Not that it answers all questions, but if you have a concern about a kid, you have a chance to get a better idea here.”

The testing at the OHL combine isn’t as comprehensive as the one run by NHL Central Scouting, who seem to register every physical aspect of the 18-year-olds including their rate of hair growth. For instance, attendees in Oshawa were spared the dreaded VO2 max, to their relief and also the janitors’. Neither does the OHL bring together as many of the top players eligible for drafting – U.S.-based players didn’t attend the combine and a few Ontario kids had to beg off because of scheduling conflicts.

The past couple of years Darcy Tucker might not have been able to be at the combine. When he retired from the NHL in 2010 Tucker became a player agent and those who had covered him over the years had reason to think that as a good fit. He had people skills, could think on his feet and was driven. But last summer, he walked away from the business.

“I was actually seeing less of my kids as an agent than I did when I was playing,” Tucker said. “There was just a lot more time on the road … a tougher life for a guy with a family. I had to decide what was the priority. These are important years for my kids and I had to be there for them.”

And he was. Tucker wound up coaching Cole’s Toronto Titans minor-midget team. He also coached the team that his 11-year-old son Cain played for.

“I didn’t have any regrets for a moment,” Tucker said. “When the kids are out of the house then I can go back to looking to work in the game again.”

Darcy Tucker says Cole will likely be bigger than he was when he was one of the game’s most effective if undersized pests.

“He probably will play a little more like his uncle,” Tucker says, referring to Shayne Corson. For his part Cole doesn’t have any idea where he might go in the draft, nor when he might make the biggest step up in his young hockey life. He’s not banking on playing in the OHL next season.

“I’d have to put in a lot of work this summer and grow a lot,” the St. Michael’s College student says.

He’s not ruling out going the NCAA route either, saying it’s “definitely in the picture.”

Wherever and whenever, Darcy Tucker figures to be either in the picture or somewhere just off camera.

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