After spending 11 seasons as a member of the infamous Grind Line in Detroit, it's only fitting that Darren McCarty gets his name on the Stanley Cup, a trophy that exemplifies hard work and grit, a fourth time. Through the first 3 of his Stanley Cup victories, McCarty played at 100% every night, and while he was not a huge point-getter, he was definitely a huge part of the team.
Following the 2004-05 lockout, when his contract was bought out by the Red Wings, McCarty seemed to have lost an edge. Playing in Calgary, he failed to score a point in the 2006-2007 season. He had made no secret of the fact that he was a recovering alcoholic while he was still playing in Detroit, but it was in Calgary that his problems really seemed to multiply. He filed for bankruptcy in 2006, with over $6 million in liabilities and less than $2 million in assets. He had a gambling problem. A drug addiction. He was estranged from his children. His life was literally falling apart. After being a Stanley Cup winner in 2002, it must have looked to McCarty like he would never get out of the hole he was in.
A lunch with friend and former teammate Kris Draper got McCarty back on track in terms of his fitness. A meeting with Ken Holland, Detroit's GM, got him back on track in terms of playing hockey again. But though he had people on his side, he still had to do the work himself. He trained hard at Draper’s gym, began skating with the Flint Generals in the IHL and slowly regained some of what he had lost. After signing with Grand Rapids in the AHL, McCarty was called up to the big show in March of 2008, over a year after he had played his last NHL game. While only playing in 3 regular season games, due to a rib injury, McCarty managed to make enough of an impact that Coach Mike Babcock dressed him for 17 of the 21 Red Wings playoff games this year.
Because of his physical transformation, McCarty regained one aspect of his former life. He’s now living with his first wife and their children again trying to become the father he’s always wanted to be, while still attempting to fix the problems he created in his second marriage.
In McCarty’s own words, his family life is “the best it has ever been.” He’s now been sober since July 20, and is not looking back. He even knows that he’s still got something in the tank left to play, a huge difference from the guy who “didn’t like hockey anymore and wasn’t the father, son, teammate or friend [he] wanted to be.”
McCarty is not the most skilled player in the league. He’s not the best skater. He’s not a great shooter. He isn’t necessarily a fantastic playmaker. But what Darren McCarty does have is a fantastic outlook on life, a great network of support around him, and the knowledge that he did hit bottom and made it back to the top.
When Darren McCarty hoisted the Stanley Cup last night, it brought a tear to the eye of many fans. In his interview with CBC’s Scott Oake, McCarty revealed that he’s well aware his resurrection is nothing short of a miracle. Detroit GM Ken Holland perhaps said it best: “This is an unbelievable story no matter what happens. He’s an unbelievable human being, [and is] back with his kids and appears to have his eyes back on the wheel in life.”
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