- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 24, 2004

Darcy Verot’s hockey career appeared over in 1997.

He hadn’t played much for a Tier II junior team in his native Saskatchewan. A life working his family’s 2,500-acre grain and cattle farm was beckoning when a couple of Verot’s hockey buddies heard a new Western Pro Hockey League team was holding tryouts.

So Verot, who had never been out of Saskatchewan, jumped in one of their trucks and headed 30 hours south to Lake Charles, La.

Verot and one of his pals made the team. Six seasons and 1,458 penalty minutes later, after battling his way through the East Coast and American hockey leagues and being let go by the Pittsburgh and Calgary organizations, the 27-year-old has become the unlikeliest of Washington regulars. He’s one of eight players to have skated in all 24 Capitals games since his Jan. 1 recall from Portland of the AHL.

The Caps, a miserable 11-23-3-1 before Verot joined the team, are a respectable 8-10-5-1 with the 6-foot, 199-pound agitator in the lineup. He has become a penalty-killing regular and has two assists and one of Washington’s better defensive ratings at minus-2.

Verot’s 90 penalty minutes — some of which were earned via four fights in a six-game span — are third on the team.

“Darcy competes; that’s why he’s here,” said Caps general manager George McPhee, himself an undersized, hard-nosed player for seven years with the Devils and New York Rangers.

“Whoever he’s playing against knows he’s out there. He’s a hard-working son of a gun. You’ve got to have skill, but you’ve got to have those kind of players, too. Gritty beats pretty on a lot of nights. Darcy has earned his ice time. He’s a reliable player. Coaches love throwing players over the boards whom they can trust.”

Indeed, Caps coach Glen Hanlon loves players like Verot, who has taken advantage of the openings created by injuries to fellow centers Michael Nylander and Dainius Zubrus.

“I’ve been following Darcy since he got called up to Wilkes-Barre [of the AHL from Wheeling of the ECHL] four years ago because he was a cranky guy who played center, and you don’t get that combination very often,” said Hanlon, then the coach in Portland.

“Darcy brings elements of toughness, hunger and fearlessness. He’ll do whatever it takes to make his team better. Every game to him is like the seventh game of the Stanley Cup [Finals]. That’s what it’s going to take for him to keep improving. That’s difficult, but he has managed to do it.”

Verot, who’s still sporting a shiner under his right eye from a bout with Nashville’s Jordan Tootoo 12 days ago, is working so hard to stay in the NHL that he hasn’t really allowed himself to bask in his overcoming the odds.

“I’ve still got to prove myself every day,” said Verot, who doesn’t seek fights but never backs away when challenged. “It still hasn’t really hit me that I’m in the NHL. I’ll probably sit back and enjoy it this summer. Nothing was ever handed to me. No one comes out of Tier II or the Western Professional League and makes the NHL. But I was always such a huge fan of the game that I never stopped believing I could make it. I’ve got to thank the organization for giving me a chance to show what I could bring to the table. I’m not the biggest or toughest guy, but I’ll battle whomever you want me to battle every night.”

Notes — Nylander, out all season with a broken leg, stayed on the ice long after practice and said he’s feeling better every day. Hanlon said he won’t play tonight against Carolina but will make his 2004 debut this weekend. … Zubrus, who has played a period and a half since straining his chest Feb. 12 at Carolina, said he is aiming to return for Friday’s game at Florida. … Goalie Olie Kolzig was absent yesterday to attend the birth of his third child, so backup Sebastien Charpentier could start tonight. Charpentier, out from Nov.14 to Feb.18 with an injured hip, hasn’t played since Oct.23. He allowed five goals nine days earlier in Montreal in his only start of the season.

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