If Darren Veitch had picked up a putter instead of a hockey stick, he could’ve been walking the greens next to Tiger Woods instead of skating alongside Steve Yzerman.
But hockey came first for the Regina, Saskatchewan, native ever since he was five years old. That never kept him off of the golf course, though. When he wasn’t winning Rookie of the Year awards in the Western Hockey League, he was winning numerous amateur golf championships. Veitch was so successful in both sports that he was chosen to compete on Saskatchewan’s 1980 Willingdon Cup team the same year he was drafted by the Washington Capitals.
Hockey came first.
But it was the experience Veitch gained on the ice that he believed helped him on the greens.
“Hockey has helped me learn to cope with pressure,” Veitch told the Leader-Post in 1980. “I don’t think you’ll get much more pressure than in the Memorial Cup unless it’s something like the Stanley Cup. But golf and hockey are different sports and, naturally you have to prepare for them in different ways.”
Veitch thought he was prepared for the jump to the NHL in 1979, but the defenseman wasn’t chosen in the entry draft. After failing to make Montreal’s roster as an unrestricted free agent, he returned to the junior league for one more season.
A phenomenal final season in the WHL was all Veitch needed to boost his stock for the following year’s draft. And that’s exactly what he did.
Veitch led the WHL with 93 assists in 71 games, helping the Regina Pats win the Ed Chynoweth Cup. He was also named to the WHL All-Star First Team and held single-season records for the most points, goals and assists by a defenseman.
The Hockey News projected Veitch to be the No. 6 pick in the 1980 draft, but that prediction did little to ease his nerves.
“I’m anxious, nervous … a little bit of everything, waiting for the draft and wondering where I will go and how that will affect my future,” Veitch told the Leader-Post before the draft. “I haven’t been approached but I have an idea which teams are interested.”
Washington was interested. The Capitals took Veitch with the No. 5 overall pick in a draft that included defensemen Dave Babych, Larry Murphy and Paul Coffey. Veitch made his NHL debut with the Capitals four months later.
Veitch scored 25 points on 21 assists and four goals during his first season. His future looked even brighter as he went on to tie the single-season record for assists by a defenseman the following year with 44. But nine games into his third season, a fractured left collarbone sidelined Veitch until February. Three days after his return to the ice, he re-fractured his collarbone in a collision with the Los Angeles Kings’ Jim Fox.
Veitch returned to Washington’s lineup but was traded to Detroit in 1986 for defensemen John Barrett and Greg Smith. Veitch knew he had big shoes to fill in order to strengthen the Red Wings’ defense and was up for the challenge. He was also looking forward to living and playing in Hockeytown.
“Detroit is an awesome hockey city,” Veitch told the Leader-Post after the trade was announced. “Hey, Detroit’s one of the Original Six.”
But the injury bug followed Veitch to Detroit. During his second year in Red and White, he tripped on his child’s toy and put his arm through a glass table. The defenseman missed two games after undergoing microsurgery for the injury, finishing the season with career highs of 13 goals and 58 points. His successful sophomore season with the Red Wings earned him the Emery Edge and The Hockey News’ Comeback Player of the Year awards.
Veitch finished his NHL career with Toronto in 1991 but continued to play in the AHL, IHL, WCHL and in Germany until his final retirement in 1999. Finding himself back in the minor leagues, Veitch picked up his golf game right where he left off. He was a celebrity player now though, not an amateur.
But he was still winning championships. Veitch won the 1996 Chicago Classic Golf Tournament after trailing fellow celebrities Mario Lemieux, John Brodie and Cliff Richey.
“I don't know if it compares to winning a Stanley Cup,” Veitch told the Chicago Tribune after winning the Chicago Classic. “But it's a really good feeling anytime you win anything.”
Whether it’s on the ice or golf course, a win is a win to Darren Veitch. And after joining the Celebrity Players Tour, he plans on having many more wins in the years to come.