By Corine Gatti
Either they loved him or they hated winger/bruiser Steve Downie  in Philadelphia. According to several postings and reactions of both Flyer fans and the American Hockey League Phantomsâ€™ bloggers â€“ most fans adored the 5-foot, 10-inch Newmarket, Ontario native. Some posted that they feared him on the opposing side after he was traded from Philadelphia to the Tampa Bay Lightning on November 7. At only 21-years of age, Downie has already amassed quite a reputation for seeing the penalty box and taking lengthy suspensions. The National Hockey League benched him for 20-games for his hit on Ottawaâ€™s Dean McAmmond during a preseason game with the Flyers last September. Downie's past has not eluded him. The American Hockey League suspended the winger for three games Wednesday after smashing Worchesterâ€™s defenseman Kyle McLaren from behind during the second period. Downie has only played six games with Norfolk.
The Downie package does have an upside. The right wing can play both sides of the rink. He is a strong skater and has the agility to put offensive numbers on the board, despite his frame. After the trade from the Philadelphia organization, Downie joined the Norfolk Admirals on their two-week road trip. He was paired with Zenon Konopka  and notched three points during his first week.
â€œI was happy about getting those points,â€ Downie said. In 21 games with the Phantoms last season, he had five goals and 12 assists and tallied 114 in penalty minutes. â€œHe embodies what our organization is about. He can go out every night and compete and he has a clear offensive upside,â€ said Norfolk General Manager Mike Butters. â€œHe has the experience of what it takes to win. He did when he played for the World Juniors.â€ Downie helped Canada collect the gold in the World Junior Ice Hockey Championships in 2006 and in 2007.
Like other athletes, there is little time to adjust after trades and moving to the next city, but Downie said he is getting more comfortable. â€œIt was tough at first,â€ Downie said about leaving Philly. â€œIâ€™m excited about playing. Iâ€™m settling down.â€
Downie was drafted in the 1st round by the Flyers in 2005. During the 2007-08 campaign, he appeared in 32 games for the Flyers, collecting 12 assists and accumulating 73 penalty minutes. This season, heâ€™s was scoreless during his six appearances with the Flyers before being reassigned to the American Hockey League a few days before his trade to the Tampa organization along with Steve Eminger  for Lightning defenseman Matt Carle .
His time in the NHL gave Downie insight of what to expect playing at that level. â€œPlaying with the big club, you learn the ins and outs,â€ Downie said. â€œYou learn what you can do and canâ€™t do. Itâ€™s a faster pace. I learned a lot from that, especially after playing in the juniors.â€
The pace of Downieâ€™s playing schedule has been grueling as his fights have been on the ice. â€œYeah, I just finished a long road trip with Philly,â€ Downie said. â€œThis is my second trip, but my body is holding up.â€
With the recent coaching change in Tampa, it is hard to speculate when Downie will return to the NHL. Currently playing right wing for Tampa Bay is Evgeny Artyukhin , Adam Hall , Mark Recchi , Martin St. Louis  and Radim Vrbata . The more in-your-face physical player like Downie adds depth to a Tampa system thin with skilled wingers. â€œThere are many factors involved,â€ Butters said. â€œIt could be a day, a week, or a couple of months. It depends on injuries or a variety of things. I know heâ€™ll definitely play a role in this organization.â€
The unfolding of Downie and his career should be one that Norfolk fans will find entertaining, thrilling, or decide his style is just dirty.
Until then, get ready Norfolk.