Back in battle zone

STEVE MACFARLANE, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:13 AM ET

Coming back to Calgary is like returning to a war zone for Darren McCarty.

The battle wasn't about a return to hockey, it was about returning to sobriety and to fatherhood.

The former Flames winger's story is pretty incredible on the ice -- a comeback that led him to a fourth Stanley Cup with the Detroit Red Wings last year after surgery for a hernia ended his second season with the Flames and threatened to end his career -- but what he's accomplished off the ice is even more amazing.

He's been sober for more than 15 months, and, since last winter, has been an involved father to his four kids not yet in their teens.

But returning for the first time to this city, where he reluctantly parted ways with a second wife to get back on the path he believed would help him leave his addictions behind, McCarty didn't want to talk about his happy ending before the Red Wings and Flames met on the ice.

"There's also some carnage in (the story). Like casualties of war," said McCarty, who married Calgarian Anna Okuszko when he played for the Flames.

"It's a personal victory in my story, but there's casualties along the way. That's the part I'm dealing with now."

McCarty doesn't mention his ex by name, but says some people "don't understand the whole picture, and could never see the whole picture," of his history with substance abuse and the need for him to be where he is right now.

Both have moved on long after stories surfaced he ran up gambling debts on her credit card and left with a vehicle that was in her name.

"To try to work it out, try to explain it, doesn't make any difference," he said.

Dealing with his injury during the 2006-07 season was small in comparison to the slide McCarty had with his addictions. He'd been to rehab in the past and went again last summer for what he hopes will be the final time, but kept his Flames teammates in the dark while he was indulging in Calgary.

"No, they didn't (know what I was going through), because I would keep it away. I was an isolator," said McCarty, who tries to go to meetings three times a week when the schedule allows it and talks out bad days by phone with friends.

"I wouldn't want them to know.

"And because I was hurt for most of the second part of the year, I wasn't around that much. That was never on display."

Looking healthy now, what's on display is his life as an aging hockey player.

In a part-time role that has seen him clear waivers more than once to give the salary-cap-strapped Wings options should they need to bring in other players, McCarty isn't complaining. Hockey is a bonus to him now.

"Not that I don't take it seriously and don't work hard at it. The other things are way more important," he said.

"When it comes to coming to the rink and coming to play, I'll give it everything I've got, but it's not the end all, be all ... Staying sober, staying on that path and having a relationship with my kids, that's what's number one."


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