FORMER SKATING PLAYBOY MELLOWS INTO TEAM LEADER

You might call it growing up, or, if your address ends in California, maybe mellowing out. Fair enough, since California is still an off-season home to Ron Duguay, a nugget of the glamorous life he once commandeered.

Oh, you remember those years. Ron Duguay, Hockey Hunk of the New York Rangers. Floor-length mink coats, a different girl on a different arm on a different night, night after night, parties till dawn, while his rump swayed to and fro across Big Apple television sets in those “Oooh-la-la, Sasson!” jeans commercials. Duguay — The Ranger In The News. His life was illuminated less by sunlight than by flashbulb. The guy was a paparazzi’s birthday wish.

But times change, and so do addresses and Ron Duguay’s is, of course, Detroit, Michigan now. And the former skating playboy has settled not only into marriage and fatherhood but has emerged as a most likely candidate for leadership on a young Red Wings team that needs leadership oh, only desperately.

“No question about it,” says Wings general manager Jimmy Devellano, “we’ve gone from an old team to a very young team in pretty much one year. Ron’s the veteran now. We expect him in a leadership role.” There are no ugly moments

Those who remember the Studio 54 days may blanch at the idea of “Doogie” leading some apple-cheeked kids from Canada anywhere. Fear not. He won’t be holding class in the art of staying out all night. The playboy wildness was a few years ago. And in the accelerated world of pro sports — where you’re an infant at 20 and an old man at 30 — a few years is a generation.

“I know there are younger players now looking up to me,” said Duguay, 28, after a recent Red Wings practice. “I know I have to face that responsibiity.

“That’s my role. They pay you more money than the younger guys and they expect more out of you. I try to show my leadership on the ice. I don’t use words to lead. Words are cheap. The best way to gain attention from your teammates is to set an example.”

Not that gaining attention ever tripped him up before. He still has a lean and muscled body, and the trademark long curly locks hanging loosely, like open curtains to his movie star face. How else do you say it? The guy always looks good. He even skates without a helmet — “I’ve just never been comfortable with one” — only furthering the impression that he is meant to be seen, that his life has somehow already been edited, so that there are no ugly moments, no frames where he is caught with his mouth hanging open or his finger in his nose.

There’s even a story that goes around about Duguay claiming he doesn’t sweat. Players switch jerseys in practice and whoever gets Duguay’s lucks out
— it’s nearly dry.

But all this doesn’t make him untouchable. A few weeks back, Duguay was rumored to be on the trading block, charisma and all, one of several desperation moves considered by Devellano to goose his then-winless team back on track.

It was then that Duguay realized that while he might still look New York on the outside, Detroit was now deep in his blood.

“I heard the talk. I guess maybe deep down inside I thought they would do it. But I really don’t want to be traded. I’m happy here with the team, the coaches, the whole organization. Leaving would be a big disappointment.” In tough times, he leads

Devellano has since said there’s “no way” he’d trade Duguay. Good. Trading him would be a mistake. Leadership is an intangible, a vital one to the Wings’ collection of rookies, free agents and the occasional Czech import. Besides, Duguay is a real Red Wings booster now. And the first step in leading a team is believing in it.

“The slump we went through early this season was tough,” he said. “We lost a quick two games and a lot of players got down on themselves because everyone expected so much.” A leader goes out and keeps playing hard. He doesn’t let losing gets to him. He walks tall in the locker room and tells the others to do the same. That’s what Duguay did. A leader.

“It is funny to think how much I want to stay here when I remember a few years ago,” he said, referring to the shock of being traded in 1983 by the Rangers — with whom he had reached the Stanley Cup Finals. But it worked out. He had a career-high 89 points last season with a weak Wings team. And since the trade smoke has dissipated, his play this year has been good.

“There’s more to being a hockey player than having a good time at night,” he said, in a tone that might drop a few jaws in some of his old Big Apple night spots. But then, this cloak of leadership is a relatively new outfit for Duguay. That’s OK. You can only assume, as with all the rest of his wardrobe, it will fit him perfectly. No sweat.

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