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Leafs right-winger Darcy Tucker off to quick start in his 10th NHL season

With a team-best four goals in Toronto's first five games, Tucker would score 65 if he kept this up and got into all 82 Maple Leafs games.

There's scant chance of it happening, of course. Tucker potted a career-best 28 last season so doesn't often grab headlines with his scoring. He's no Wayne Gretzky, and he knows it.

"Not much," Tucker responded when asked after practice Friday if he attaches any relevance to his out-of-the-gate spurt. "Pucks went in a few times. That's about it."

Sure, he'd love to fill nets every night.

"You want to produce and help the team win," he said. "If the team is winning, the other stuff doesn't mean as much."

Tucker's status with the Leafs has increased each of the seven years he's been on board. Only Mats Sundin and Tomas Kaberle have been with the club longer.

Testy, rambunctious, abnoxious - there are numerous adjectives opponents might use to describe the five-foot-10, 180-point right-winger who always plays bigger than his size.

Always reluctant to blow his own horn, Tucker keeps his sentences short when he deduces that he's the topic of a writer's story.

"I don't get involved in that," he replied when asked what adjective he'd use to describe himself on the ice. "I wouldn't have an idea."

Coach Paul Maurice doesn't hesitate when asked to describe Tucker, who he coached against when he was behind the Carolina bench.

"All you've got to do is change one letter and that's how you thought about him," Maurice said with a grin. "On the opposing bench you don't care for him because he's hard to play against.

"When you're here, you appreciate him."

Tucker has become a power-play specialist. Three of his four goals have been scored on power plays. Last season, 18 of his 28 came while Toronto had man advantages.

"With more penalties these days you're going to get more minutes on the power play," Tucker said matter-of-factly. "Of course, you want to score on your power-play opportunities.

"You have to to win in this league. It's important."

Tucker's puck-handling abilities are underrated, said Maurice.

"He's got a good touch for the puck through the neutral zone," said Maurice.

He loves that he knows exactly what he's getting from the 31-year-old native of Castor, Alta.

"He's going to come out and go as hard as he can," says Maurice. "If he makes a mistake, he's going to be harder on himself than you're going to be."

Tucker worked hard during the summer so he would be in top shape come training camp. It's one facet of the leadership responsibilities he accepts.

"He sets a real good example on the ice in practice," said Maurice.

Another thing Maurice likes about Tucker is that "he's one of the handful of guys who's been in the game long enough that you can have a conversation with him - the normal how's-the-family type of conversation - and that's always good for a coach."

Tucker currently is on the first line with Sundin and Kyle Wellwood.

"It doesn't matter to me," he said. "It doesn't matter where I play as long as I contribute."

Oh, and what's skating alongside Sundin like?

"I've done it before," Tucker replied. "You just try to make the most of it and play as hard as you can."

He's seen and done a lot in his 10 years in the big league - so much that fans in most cities outside Toronto detest him.

He's reviled on Long Island. During the first round of the 2002 Stanley Cup playoffs he hip-checked Mike Peca, ending the season for the scrappy New York Islanders centre who suffered a serious knee injury on the play. Now they're teammates, and becoming friends. Their children attend the same school.

Tucker is hated in Buffalo. Last April, he was in a knee-on-knee collision with Sabres winger Jochen Hecht. It didn't turn out to be a serious injury, but Tucker can count on a hostile reception when the Leafs cross the Peace Bridge for the first time this season on Nov. 4.

It's not a one-way street, of course. Ottawa captain Daniel Alfredsson broke Tucker's shoulder a few years ago.

In retrospect, the Leafs' deal to acquire Tucker from Tampa Bay was a steal. Basically, it was a Tucker-for-Mike Johnson swap. Johnson is currently with Montreal, and he's had only a fraction of the impact Tucker has had.

"Yeah," Tucker replied when asked if he's feeling like an old guy now. "I've been around the league long enough to know how to help some of the young guys out and understand what's expected of me and how to play the way the coaches expect."

The Leafs have six of a possible 10 points from their first five games. They face the visiting Calgary Flames on Saturday night (7 p.m. ET).

"I like our makeup," he said of the 2006-2007 Leafs. "Everybody is playing hard and if we continue to work the same way we are now we're going to be okay."

But is this lineup better than previous Leafs teams he's been on?

"I don't compare teams," he said flatly.

What's left?

"Every day is a new day," said Tucker, who plays tougher than he talks. "I come to the rink and take it as that, and play as hard as I can when I'm on the ice."

The broken shoulder, broken toes, thumb and nose, smashed front teeth, orbital bone around an eye and countless cuts - he pays a price for his rugged style of play.

He won the Memorial Cup three times with the Kamloops, B.C., juniors, and he helped Canada win the 1995 world junior championship. All he wants now is to be on a Stanley Cup winner.

When he was 10, Tucker faked an injury during a game to draw a penalty, and his dad, who was also his coach, disapproved. On the drive home, his dad made him get out of the car and walk the remainder of the way home.

He never faked an injury again.

There's nothing fake about Darcy Tucker.

If you're a Leafs fan, you have to love the guy. He's the closest thing they've got now to a Doug Gilmour or a Wendel Clark.


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