Darren McCarty eased into the media scrum in front of his dressing-room stall without once looking anyone in the eye. He took the Calgary Flames jersey that was hanging behind him and lowered it, perhaps so the television cameras wouldn't zero in on the team's logo.
Then he looked up from underneath the bill of his ball cap and admitted what was already etched on his face: He was embarrassed. Embarrassed for having to file for bankruptcy in the United States. Embarrassed for having to acknowledge his personal indebtedness was a staggering $6.2-million (all figures U.S.) and that he owed a trio of casinos, one in Detroit, two in Las Vegas, a combined $185,000.
"I want to make a point to say, I want everybody to know, as far as some of the gambling debts, not one cent was on any type of sports betting," McCarty insisted yesterday after a Detroit newspaper outlined the extent of his financial mess.
"It's something I was up front with from the start. [Flames coach] Darryl Sutter was aware of it. [Team president] Ken King was aware of it. It's something I was not proud of because it drags a lot of people into it."
McCarty wouldn't answer questions. He told reporters, "Obviously this is something I've been dealing with for the past year" and mentioned there was more to the story than what had been told.
What has been outlined to this point is a sad account of how an established National Hockey League player, the guy who scored the Stanley Cup-winning goal for the 1997 Detroit Red Wings, ended up spending beyond his means until he had no means of making things right.
According to documents filed last November at a U.S. bankruptcy court in Detroit, the 34-year-old McCarty owes DMA Holdings $2-million, Huntington National Bank $1.5-million, the Bellagio Casino $100,000, the Palms Casino $60,000 and the MotorCity Casino $25,000.
There are other monies owing, including $3,177 to J.D. Candler Roofing in Detroit, but it's the gambling debt that immediately raised eyebrows around the NHL.
Commissioner Gary Bettman recently hired an independent investigator to look into allegations of a gambling ring operated by Phoenix Coyotes assistant coach Rick Tocchet.
According to ESPN.com, the investigator, former U.S. federal prosecutor Bob Cleary, has yet to find "any indications the game's integrity has been compromised by people betting on league games."
That may be, but Tocchet has been charged with money laundering, conspiracy and promoting gambling, and that made the NHL nervous when it learned there were gambling losses among McCarty's many debts.
"Yes, they have," answered King, when asked if NHL officials had contacted the Flames about McCarty. "When there's an issue surrounding a player, a coach or a team they, too, are supportive of our organization. I'm confident there was no sports betting."
McCarty has never hidden his love for poker. He once said he aspired to compete at the World Series of poker because he enjoyed the mental aspect of the game, the strategy and the bluffing.
The problem for McCarty is that he no longer earns the kind of money he did in Detroit while his assets have dwindled to roughly one-third of what he owes. For example: McCarty listed his income as $2.1-million in 2003, $1.5-million in 2004 and $193,959 in 2005. The Red Wings bought out his contract last summer for $538,729 but the bulk of that ($404,046) went to McCarty's ex-wife in their divorce settlement.
As for McCarty's assets, he has $5,600 in jewellery, two Harley-Davidson motorcycles worth $16,000, $500 in golf clubs and a house where the mortgage exceeds its market value. Court papers also indicated McCarty's 2004 Cadillac Escalade had "sunk in a body of water" and that a Dutch Star motor home was destroyed by fire.
Marty Fried, McCarty's lawyer, said his client's plight was the result of last season's NHL lockout, the divorce and the smaller $850,000 contract offered by the Flames. To his credit, McCarty never raised any of those excuses. His comment was limited to, "It's something that's obviously a bit of an embarrassing situation."
Much of McCarty's appeal as a player and a person has been his regular-guy status and the fact he's faced as many problems as any of us. During part of his time in Detroit, McCarty was a fighter and an alcoholic. After going sober, his father was diagnosed with cancer prompting McCarty to organize a foundation that has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars.
And now through bad luck and bad decisions, he's divorced and broke while playing in the NHL. That makes him a rarity among his peers but no less worthy of their help.
"There's no other approach for us to take except being supportive," King said. "Darren has faced lots of challenges in his career and he's dealt with them in a positive style."
How he deals with this one will determine how sincere he is about settling old scores and just how deep his embarrassment runs.
Some McCarty creditors
"It's something I as not proud of because it drags a lot of people into it." Darren McCarty
Portage, Mich.: $2-million
Huntington Nat'l. Bank,
Bloomfield Hills, Mich.: $1.5-million
Las Vegas: $100,000
Las Vegas: $60,000
MBNA America: $35,322
Law firm of John Schaefer,
Birmingham, Mich: $28,000
Chase Card Services: $24,415
American Express: $18,774
Chase Cardmember Services: $13,538.98
Law firm of Seyburn Kahn,
Southfield, Mich.: $8,270
Capital One Services,
St. Louis: $4,940
J.D. Candler Roofing,
US Bank, St. Louis: $2,639
Exxon Mobil: $1,089
American Express: $902
DirecTV, Illinois: $537
Oakland County (Mich.)
Drain Commission: $282
DTE Energy, Detroit: $264
Lansing, Mich.: $68
(All figures U.S.)
Source: McCarty bankruptcy filing
Calgary Flames forward Darren McCarty owes $185,000 to a trio of casinos, according to his bankruptcy filing. Incorrect information appeared yesterday.