Down Goes Brown wrote a delightful post for Grantland about the biggest NHL dirtbags, inspiring this series of posts about the details of their dirtbagginess and resultant injuries. No dirtbag discussion is complete without mention of Darcy Tucker, whose insane facial expressions alone are enough to strike fear into the hearts of children everywhere.
Darcy Tucker. Say his name, stand back and watch the expletives fly from the lips of Islanders fans. And Flyers fans. And Senators fans. And most other people. Fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs have a love/hate relationship with him – loving his willingness to fight anyone, hating his dumb penalties and cap hit that lasts until 2014. Like fellow dirtbag Sean Avery, Tucker inspired an NHL rule change. Unlike Sean Avery, he didn’t do it by pissing off a goalie, he did it by destroying someone’s knee.
Mike Peca’s Knee
In the first round of the 2001-02 playoffs the Maple Leafs met the Islanders in a series that was more fights and cheap hits than actual hockey playing. Game five was particularly ugly, seeing the end to Mike Peca’s season (and knee) and an incredibly filthy Gary Roberts hit that knocked Kenny Jonsson out for the season (literally). While the Tucker hit wasn’t technically dirty at the time, it resulted in the clipping rule:
44.1 Clipping - Clipping is the act of throwing the body, from any direction, across or below the knees of an opponent.
A player may not deliver a check in a “clipping” manner, nor lower his own body position to deliver a check on or below an opponent’s knees.
An illegal “low hit” is a check that is delivered by a player or goalkeeper who may or may not have both skates on the ice, with his sole intent to check the opponent in the area of his knees. A player may not lower his body position to deliver a check to an opponent’s knees.
Tucker crouched and drove his ass into Peca’s left knee, resulting in an ACL/MCL blowout. Seeing as how the ACL is the ligament that keeps the lower leg from sliding too far forward, and the MCL keeps it from bending too far inward, Peca was left with an incredibly unstable knee that would need repair surgery and a major rehab. The Islanders lost the series, and popular Isles fan opinion seems to hold that this was single-handedly Darcy Tucker’s fault. Strangely there seems to be little willingness to admit that perhaps it had more to do with the fact that despite their second-place finish in the Atlantic that year, the Islanders generally aren’t very good at hockey. It’s okay though, because neither are the Leafs.
To add insult to knee injury, Peca also needed surgery on an unstable left shoulder from an injury earlier in the season. He was supposed to be back by December but managed to return a month early, and promptly sprained his right knee. In a fortunate turn of events for the mental health of Long Island residents, he didn’t miss any more games because of it.
It’s obviously important to point out that Tucker has a history of threats against knees, allegedly threatening Peca during this series (and delivering), threatening and attempting to take out Minnesota’s Nick Schultz’ knees while he was with Colorado, and being caught on camera telling Dany Heatley to “Watch your knees.” Pick one thing and be really good at it, I guess.
Sami Kapanen’s Brain
Darcy Tucker murdered a man and was never charged or convicted. That man was Philadelphia’s Sami Kapanen, and the video of the hit should make you sick. Not so much the hit itself, where Kapanen’s head seems to take three separate impacts – from Tucker, the glass, then the ice – but his gruesome attempts to get up and keep playing right up until Keith Primeau Apollo hooks him off the ice with his stick. The fact that the hit was completely legal at the time doesn’t take away from its complete dirtbagginess. Philadelphia fans no doubt take some solace in the fact that Jeremy Roenick scored the winning goal shortly thereafter, knocking the Leafs out of the playoffs for the next nine years. They probably also took comfort in watching Toronto come back from a 3-1 series deficit against Boston only to blow their three-goal lead in game seven of their first post-drought series. Small comfort for a fanbase now accustomed to losing key players to concussions – Primeau, Pronger, Laperriere, and Lindros (shut up, I know he played for other teams, he still counts).
Unrelated to Sami Kapanen but related to hits to the head and concussions, NHL’s Rule 48 regarding hits to the head has undergone a revision in the offseason, changing from
A hit resulting in contact with an opponent’s head where the head is targeted and the principal point of contact is not permitted.
A hit resulting in contact with an opponent’s head where the head was the main point of contact and such contact to the head was avoidable.
This is a very interesting change that should take the element of “Oops I didn’t mean to accidentally decapitate him” out of the game. Baby steps. Darcy Tucker is probably glad this rule didn’t exist while he was playing.
Dirtbag vs Dirtbag
Just a brief reminder that Darcy Tucker once beat Cam Janssen in the face with his own helmet. The best part about this classy moment was Colin Campbell’s comment afterwards that “We did not feel it was Tucker’s intent to hurt Janssen with the helmet. He was trying to get the helmet off and I don’t think he was trying to use it as a weapon.”
There is currently no rule that specifically takes the element of “Oops I didn’t mean to beat you with your own helmet.” out of the game.
In Defence of Not Being a Dirtbag
Toronto’s Shayne Corson leaned heavily on linemate, roommate, and brother-in-law Darcy Tucker throughout his fight with crippling panic attacks. Corson has ulcerative colitis (UC), a particularly terrible autoimmune disease that can lie dormant for years, often with the help of immune-modulating medications. UC manifests as erosions in the colon, and comes along with abdominal pain, bloody diarrhea and a variety of extraintestinal symptoms including eye and skin problems, anemia, weight loss, and liver disease. UC is also aggravated by stress, so Corson’s UC flare in 2000 combined with panic attacks to put him in a desperate situation. Tucker notoriously stuck by Corson’s side, making sure he had all the support he needed at home and on the road through a season where he wasn’t at his peak physically or mentally. Shayne Corson’s struggle and Darcy Tucker’s support are detailed nicely in a 2001 article by SI’s Kostya Kennedy that’s required reading for anyone not willing to believe that Tucker may actually have a soul.
Tucker’s Role in The Battle of Ontario, aka Why Toronto Hates Alfie
It is entirely Daniel Alfredsson’s fault that Toronto hates him*, although Darcy Tucker certainly made several important contributions. Alfie’s dangerous, illegal hit from behind on Tucker (at 1:08 in the video) led to his game-winning goal in game five of the 2002 Conference Finals – a series the Senators went on to lose.
In March of 2003, Darcy Tucker attacked Chris Neil (who was on the Sens’ bench at the time), probably because Chris Neil is Chris Neil. Later Tie Domi punched Magnus Arvedson in the face, and Daniel Alfredsson subsequently attempted to chop Domi in two with his stick. The outcome – Five games for Tucker, three for Domi, and nothing for the murderous Alfie.
In a non-Tucker-related incident, Alfredsson mimed tossing a stick into the crowd at the ACC in January of 2004, mocking Mats Sundin’s temper tantrum two days earlier against Nashville. That was, as you may recall, also the year Alfie guaranteed a cup win mid-season. You may also recall that Ottawa lost to Toronto in the first round of the playoffs that year.
* This section of the post is dedicated to the heart-stomping Daniel Alfredsson delivered to all of Ottawa’s fans when he signed with Detroit. We all know that hit was dirty as hell, and now we can admit it.
Conclusion? Darcy Tucker: Lovable Dirtbag.
Many, many thanks to the wonderful Down Goes Brown for being funny, for pointing out so many dirtbags, and for being okay with me using his dirtbags for your entertainment. That last bit sounded awful and I’m sorry.