They would stay in their hotel room and watch TV, Corson's hands and brow often soaked in sweat. Tucker didn't leave him, missing those team dinners, listening to Corson's fears and trying to calm him. With Tucker's help, Corson played in 77 of 82 matches, missing five games because of injuries. "I loved Darce before we went through all that," says Corson. "Now I feel like I owe the kid so much."
Their relationship traces back to the 1996-97 season, when Corson was traded from the St. Louis Blues back to the Canadiens, the team with which he'd broken in a decade earlier. Tucker was a 21-year-old rookie, outwardly brash after a few years of scoring prodigiously in the Western Hockey League but so nervous that he bit his nails and fidgeted incessantly. He had been raised milking cows on the family farm outside Castor, Alberta (pop. 970). Now he was in Montreal, single, with few friends, playing for the NHL's most storied franchise.
After their first practice together Corson took Tucker to lunch. "Shayne liked Darcy because he reminded him of himself," says Paul Zullo, a longtime friend of Corson's and personal trainer for both players. "When Shayne broke in, he was nervous just like Darcy was. He also liked that Darcy was so feisty on the ice."
Soon Corson and Tucker went everywhere together. Corson had shed the office rambunctiousness that had landed him in highly publicized bar brawls (and in jail after one of them) when he was with the Canadiens in the early 1990s. Instead he did things like invite Tucker for home-cooked meals, especially when Corson's mother and sisters were in town. After the 5'11", 185-pound Tucker was traded to the Tampa Bay Lightning during the 1997-98 season, he returned to Montreal to watch Corson in the playoffs. "After Dad died, Shayne needed a male figure in his life," says Shannon. "Darcy was it."
Corson and his mom both claim credit for inspiring the union between Shannon and Darcy. "I told Shannon that he would be the perfect little fellow to come into our family," says June. "He was a sweet, handsome farm boy."
June's prodding helped lead to a courtship that included Shannon's regularly phoning Darcy's hotel room and talking to Shayne for a half hour first; the couple's first movie together, in which they sat giggling at Liar! Liar! and Tucker was too shy to hold Shannon's hand; romantic dates in Toronto; a wedding ceremony at a small church in Barrie, on June 27, 1998; and now, a girl, Owynn, 2, and a boy, Cole, 1. "When Cole was born, I think Shayne was more excited than anyone," says Shannon. "He was in the delivery room with us, and afterward he was running around at our house making sure everything was all right."
Today, as they begin their second full season as pivotal players on a team with Stanley Cup aspirations, Corson and Tucker and their respective families live five minutes from each other in Toronto. They spend the summer in neighboring cottages on a piece of lakefront land in Muskoka, Ont., that they call "the family compound." They own a boat together. Their children are like siblings. "Sometimes I forget who Darcy is attached to," says June. "Is it Shannon or Shayne? I guess it's all of us."
Last season was supposed to be glorious. Corson had left Montreal as a free agent and signed a three-year, $6.75 million contract with the Maple Leafs in July 2000 after spurning a richer offer from the Philadelphia Flyers. That deal brought him near his family and into a dressing room with Tucker, whom Toronto had traded for five months earlier. The Maple Leafs' brass hoped that Corson might add the measure of grit and offense that Toronto needed to win the Cup.
As players, Tucker and Corson are similar. While both have shown offensive ability—Corson has scored more than 20 goals five times in his career, Tucker twice—they prefer to skate into a scrum rather than into open ice. "He gives us more in the sandpaper department," said Leafs executive Bill Watters after Toronto acquired Tucker.
Last Nov. 2, playing against the New Jersey Devils, Tucker assisted on Corson's first goal as a Maple Leaf. There were few similar highlights, however. Corson lost his confidence in the offensive zone and attempted to offset his full-season career-low output of eight goals and 18 assists by relying heavily on physical play. By season's end he'd amassed 189 penalty minutes, his highest total since 1995-96.