Tucker is anything but typical

STEVE SIMMONS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:18 AM ET

One of these things is not like the others: Brendan Shanahan. Marian Hossa. Ilya Kovalchuk. Darcy Tucker.

The leading goal scorers in the National Hockey League.

Darcy Tucker smiles that devilish, kid-like, who-me grin of his when asked how it feels to find himself among the elite of his game. "Very fortunate," he calls himself. "Hard work," he says.

For a moment, he almost sounds like most hockey players but then you realize Tucker has never been like most hockey players. No matter what he has done -- good, bad, berserk -- he has never been typical.

"It's weird when I look and see 16 goals, it's weird and it's great," he says, knowing that in some of his 10 NHL seasons he didn't score that many. "You want more. It doesn't seem like that but every shift you want to do it again. You want more and more. I think it's just being hungry out there.

"It doesn't seem (real) ... Let's be honest. I've been put in a great position. I play on the power play with some of the best power play people in the world. I'm getting a lot of chances to score."

Paul Maurice, for one, isn't about to take any credit for the maturation of Tucker, who is crediting his coach for some of his new-found profusion. Maurice doesn't want any acclaim for Tucker or any blame later "if the reins come off and Berserko starts again."

His name for Tucker, by the way, not ours.

"I used a lot worse names when I coached against him," Maurice says.

It is a startling thing to watch when the impossible becomes possible, when a 20-goal scorer suddenly leaves his past behind, when a career outsider who now is part of the Maple Leafs inner circle. The Sideshow Bob days are a thing of the past. This isn't the Tucker who was traded away in the second and fourth years of his career. The intensity is the same, the focus has changed.

"I think it's a lot more controlled," Tucker says. "It's in a narrow hallway now, not in the whole ACC ... It's going to derail from time to time. It's about keeping the train on the tracks."

Last year, the best of Tucker's NHL decade, he finished tied with seven others for 53rd in the league in goal scoring. The previous season he was 66th. Fiftieth seems about right.

As of yesterday, Tucker was tied with four others for second in the league.

In another sport, this is the kind of dream season they make musicals about: Only Tucker didn't sell his soul to the devil, no matter what his harshest critics might think. Nor is he waiting for a pin to prick this wonderful balloon.

This is all happening in a contract year, at the right time, in the right place. This is Tucker's kind of hockey town, loud and constant. He is no turtle, he wears no shell. He reads everything written about him and his team, hears everything on radio, responds to just about everything.

TOUGH EXTERIOR

He is a combination of tough exterior and thin skin, part player, part fan, hard on the forecheck but owning soft hands. He takes the game home with him to his own detriment, has trouble, in his words, "turning it off."

"This is what this hockey market is all about. It's about feeding off everything that's going on. There's times I have to turn (the radio) off and say what the heck is going on?

"In Toronto, there's still a game to be won and a game to be played. The fans will never let you forget that in Toronto."

And even though this season will make him wealthier beyond anything he ever believed possible, this has never been about money. Money is the byproduct of Tucker's passion and power- play acumen, one now dependent on the other. He scores mostly garbage goals, tap-ins, one-timers from one side of the net or the other, from somebody else's skilled pass. That impresses some, not necessarily his coach.

"He has missed a lot of chances," says Maurice, not necessarily kidding. "He'll tell you that. He could have 30 by now."


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