July 18, 2006
TORONTO (CP) -- To say there was bad blood between Michael Peca and Darcy Tucker following a controversial hit four years ago is putting it mildly.
Tucker knocked Peca out of the 2002 playoffs with a low hit in Toronto's first-round series win over the New York Islanders that caused Peca to have reconstructive knee surgery and miss part of the next season.
But apparently time heals all wounds.
|Peca talks with Leafs TV's Paul Hendrick |
"It does,'' Peca said Tuesday after being introduced as the newest Maple Leaf. "In 1997 in Buffalo, Vincent Damphousse (of the Habs) ripped my mouth open with a cross-check and for years all I wanted to do is rip his head off. But time passes and you lose that. Because I've done it to other people, too. You just can't hold on to grudges. Since then I've got to know Damphousse well and he's a fantastic guy.''
And the same has happened with Tucker, although it might be pushing it to say the two have kissed and made up.
"We haven't kissed,'' Peca joked at his Air Canada Centre news conference. "But I've spoken to Darcy on a number of occasions at players' meetings and things of that nature. He's also become pretty good friends with a cousin of mine and we have mutual friends. There's no issue there.''
Tucker said having those mutual friends helped make things easier after the incident.
"I know a few of his cousins and we have some friends in the car business that he plays golf with and I play golf with on a regular basis, so it works out easier for both of us,'' Tucker said Tuesday while driving back from his cottage in Muskoka.
Tucker and Peca are both intense and emotional players, heart-and-soul guys, so the fact they locked horns in a playoff series should be no surprise. But hockey rivals are often hockey buddies under different circumstances.
"I was playing golf with Steve Thomas yesterday,'' said Tucker. "Over the years playing against Stumpy before he came to Toronto, we had some pretty good battles and now we're best of friends. It is weird, no doubt. But that's what is so great about our game. You can go at it and have your battles and be part of playoff series where you despise the other team and their players and then that player comes to your hockey club and you get a total different perception of him.
"I see that being the same way with this situation.''
Tucker said he was thrilled to now be one of Peca's teammates.
"You look at the things that he's accomplished over his career, I have nothing but the utmost respect for what he brings to the ice and what he'll bring to our hockey club,'' said Tucker. "I think we've acquired one of the premier shutdown guys in the league. I'm also thrilled and excited about the opportunity of maybe having him on the same line.''
Peca, 32, became an unrestricted free agent July 1 and eventually set his sights on Toronto, putting other interested clubs on the backburner. The Toronto native made public two weeks ago that he wanted to play with his hometown team and that got the ball rolling. Leafs GM John Ferguson phoned Peca's veteran agent Don Meehan.
"I spoke to Donnie well over a week ago,'' said Ferguson. "He was very understanding, we had a few other pieces of the puzzle we wanted to figure out.''
Once the Leafs took care of business with several of their restricted free agents, the picture became clearer in terms of what they could afford to spend on Peca. He eventually signed a $2.5-million US, one-year deal, which was about all the Leafs could afford because of salary cap constraints.
Peca came in from his Buffalo home over the weekend and met Ferguson and Paul Maurice at the Leafs coach's suburban home in Oakville on Sunday.
"After the meeting with Paul and John on Sunday evening, it really solidified my belief that this was going to be the right fit for me and the right fit for them,'' said Peca.
Maurice was equally impressed after the meeting.
"I had my list of 10-15 questions for Mike,'' said Maurice. "So we sit down, Mike starts, he talks about his year, what he wants as a player, what he needs, where he thinks he's at his best _ and by the time he was done I didn't have any questions for him. He answered everything. His hockey acumen is very high.
"It makes it easier for me to talk to a player like that, he knows the game.''
Peca, who earned $3.99 million last year in Edmonton, was offered more money and more years elsewhere, but Toronto is where he wanted to go and he's welcoming the one-year deal as a challenge, coming off a disappointing regular season with Edmonton but a tremendous post-season during the Oilers' magical run.
"I felt it was more important for me to come in and re-establish myself and prove to the organization that I'm not going to come in and just milk off a long-term deal,'' said Peca. "I want to re-establish my identity, as I did in the playoffs.''
The 11-year NHL centre recorded six goals, five assists and a plus-5 rating in 24 playoff games, winning key faceoffs and killing penalties while centring a line between Fernando Pisani and Raffi Torres that was instrumental in the Oilers' post-season run. He had nine goals and 14 assists in 71 regular-season games.
"What we're adding now is some real solid two-way play, a guy that's really going to help us be a harder team to play against, and I think that's the bottom line for us,'' said Ferguson. "We're going to be younger, quicker, and play a more up-tempo style.''
Peca has family and friends in Toronto and his off-season home in Buffalo is nearby but that wasn't the only reason for signing with the Leafs.
"Obviously being a Toronto kid goes without saying how big this is, but it goes deeper than that,'' Peca said. "My willingness to play in Toronto goes beyond being from Toronto, it's recognizing an organization that prides itself on wanting to win, and really taking every step necessary where they see fit to try to provide that for the fans.''
Peca, who has 394 career points (160-234) in 693 regular-season games with Vancouver, Buffalo, Long Island and Edmonton, was also a member of Canada's 2002 Olympic champion team in Salt Lake City.