Darcy Tucker was in attendance this past December when Toronto Maple Leafs centre Auston Matthews was announced as a fellow Scotiabank ambassador. Tucker hadn’t had a real chance to become acquainted with the 20-year-old phenom by that point, but took note of his demeanour, describing it as “humble” and “thankful.”
Tucker was most thrilled, however, that Matthews later took to the ice with some of the youth hockey players who had been invited. That’s what resonated in his mind because Tucker, a rough-and-tumble fan favourite during his eight-year tenure with the Leafs, spends plenty of time around young hockey players now that he’s retired.
The 42-year-old father of three coaches his youngest son’s GTHL hockey team and when chatting with him, you can sense the satisfaction he derives from teaching.
Tucker will be doing just that next week when he travels to Corner Brook, N.L., ahead of Scotiabank Hockey Day In Canada. The former winger plans to head to the Rock early to take part in school visits, hockey clinics and other community activities throughout the week, leading up to the Jan. 20 festivities.
“I just enjoy the company of the people,” Tucker says. “Everybody out there is so friendly and accommodating. Anytime you get an opportunity to go out that way, the people are what makes the trip so much fun. I’m going to enjoy it.
“You have lots of hockey fans out there. Lots of young kids who appreciate having the alumni around.”
Sportsnet caught up with Tucker to chat about HDIC, his Battle of Ontario memories, the health issues of brother-in-law and former teammate Shayne Corson, and more.
Why did you initially decide to get involved with Hockey Day in Canada years ago?
I’ve been part of Scotiabank’s Hockey Day in Canada since 2013. I just really believe in Scotiabank’s approach to community hockey. We’ve helped over one million kids now across Canada and we’re looking forward to the next million that we’re going to help out. It’s amazing work that we’ve done in communities across Canada. Lots of different initiatives, including local and community hockey programs here in the GTA.
I have two boys playing minor hockey. It’s very easy for me to be in the rinks around Toronto and see the amount of youth we have playing this great game. Not only here in Toronto but to get to travel across Canada and meet, greet people in different communities, it’s a pretty rewarding experience.
The Leafs will play the Senators on Hockey Day in Canada. It’s been almost 15 years since the last Battle of Ontario playoff matchup. Is there a memory you have from those series that stands above the rest?
There were a lot of really good memories playing in Toronto, not only in that last playoff series, but all four of them that we played against the Sens. I was a big believer in the way our team played. We were physical, we were hard to play against. We just found ways to win those series. There wasn’t anything Ottawa could have done differently. We were ultra-competitive. They were strong, hard, long series, all of them, and it took a lot out of us playing Ottawa, that’s for sure. They had a great hockey team.
Was there any moment during those matchups where you guys said amongst yourselves, “OK, we have this team. We’re in their head”?
The one series [in 2001] when Cory Cross scored in overtime in Game 3 to put us up 3–0, that was one you could look at. We ended up sweeping them, but even though we’d won the first two games in Ottawa, going back home, they fought like crazy in Game 3. And then Cross’s goal.
Are you friends now with any of the Sens players on those teams?
You use “friends” lightly or loosely? [laughs] I got a lot of respect for pretty much every opponent that I played against. [But] being so close to those guys in those series, you get to have a certain disdain — let’s put it that way. [They were] hard-fought series.
But in retirement, gosh, hockey’s a game and you play the game to win a Stanley Cup. To be the best you can be. To get the opportunity to play against such a good Ottawa team with such great characters was nice. They were doing the same thing on their side. It’s just when you’re playing somebody in a series, it’s us or them and that’s the way I took it as a player. In retirement, I’ve got a lot of respect for the gentlemen that played over there. [Wade] Redden, [Daniel] Alfredsson, Chris Neil, Chris Phillips. They had a lot of good hockey players over there during those times.
Well well look who retired Guess I won’t be playing anymore alumni games against the Sens congrats on a great career Chris #respect
I saw you jokingly chirped Chris Neil a little bit on Twitter when he retired.
I don’t know if it’s chirping or poking fun at myself. If you can’t laugh at yourself, there’s something wrong with you. I had some fun over the years playing against him, but I can also poke fun. The one tweet with Phillips when he retired was just as funny as the one with Neil. It’s just fun and good natured.
Happy retirement Chris I enjoyed every minute…
If you were describing your Battle of Ontario experiences to your grandkids one day, what’s a sentence you would use?
“Grandpa wasn’t as crazy as he looked on that YouTube video.” [laughs]
One of the intriguing stories to come from those years was your relationship with Shayne Corson. I remember reading that you helped him deal with his anxiety attacks. What are your memories of that?
Any time you are family and you have a family member that’s going through something, it’s tough. It was tough for Shayne — he wanted to keep it as private as possible. When you’re playing hockey and trying to get through certain things you are struggling with, you do your best to keep them as private as possible. Once it came out, a lot of things came out with it: The fact that we were so close; we roomed together during those times; that he was going through those things; the fact he was like a big brother to me. When I look back at my career, there’s a lot of people who helped me along the way, but there are certain people that just become like family. Don Hay, my junior coach in Kamloops, became like family to me. And Shayne became like my older brother when I played in the NHL.
There were times where it was a struggle for Shayne, but at the same time, he’s doing so well now. He’s a great person and it’s great to see.
Did team brass or even teammates know what he was dealing with or did you guys keep it quiet?
He was pretty quiet for a long period of time. I’d say besides myself and Shayne, there might have been one or two guys who might have known what was happening. At the end of the day, we were doing what we needed to do to help us win hockey games. Shayne didn’t want to be a distraction to anybody.
You and Shayne played on a line with Travis Green, who’s now bench boss for the Canucks. Has he ever reached out to try to get you involved in coaching?
Travis and I are friends. We talk from time to time. I’ve got a lot of time for Travis and the person that he is. He’s doing a fabulous job in Vancouver. If there’s one person I talk to more than any other besides Shayne, it would probably be Travis [or] Bryan McCabe. And they’re both involved in the NHL now. (McCabe is now director of player development for the Florida Panthers.)
From a coaching standpoint, I don’t know if I’m ready. I’m enjoying being with my family and working with Scotiabank and being part of the Toronto Maple Leafs alumni. I think it’s right where I need to be at this point in my life. I got two boys playing minor hockey and my daughter is still at home. I’m happy where I’m at and content.
You never say never to anything. I’ve always kept an open mind to anything in life. Hockey has afforded me so much from a family, career and financial level…. The one thing as players you want to accomplish is winning the Stanley Cup. You chase that dream no matter what position you’re in in your life. So you can never say never to that other side of hockey.
What do you think of the current Maple Leafs?
The drafting they’ve done over the past few years has been fabulous. You look at the good, young players they have in the organization. Management has put the people in place to do the jobs they need to do to make the team better. I really think this team has some really good pieces that are going to do good things in Toronto for a number of years.
I go to about 15 games a year — I’d say a third of the games that are at home. Some in a formal capacity, some just to take the boys down and enjoy the game and have some popcorn and watch the little idiosyncrasies that go with playing in the NHL. It’s quite cool when I get to take the boys there.
When you’re alumni and you feel like you’re part of an organization, you want the best for the organization. Each and every guy who has ever put that Maple Leafs sweater on wants the best for the organization.
Do you see yourself reflected in any player on that club?
[laughs] I’m a different type of cat, so I don’t know if there’s anybody that plays like me.