All eyes are on Steve Downie.
It would be stretching it a bit to suggest that if he acts up and gets into more trouble now that he has been recalled by the Philadelphia Flyers, it will have an irrefutable affect on the rest of his career. We all know that is not true.
But given the fact he is set to make his NHL regular-season debut, having served a 20-game suspension for a cold and calculated attack on Ottawa's Dean McAmmond during the preseason, coupled with the fact the Flyers are under the gun for having so many players suspended this season, you would like to think Downie will be on his best behavior.
Which begs the question, what exactly is his best behavior?
There is no denying Downie possesses skill. He proved it in back-to-back World Junior Championship tournaments with Team Canada. If he were to go out and rely solely on his skill, he would make a comfortable living as an NHLer. But physicality is Downie's calling card. His mission is to play on the edge; the problem is too often he goes over that edge.
You can bet, having slapped him with a 20-gamer for misbehavior, the NHL will not hesitate to make his next punishment even longer. And if that happens, the Flyers will surely reevaluate his worth to the organization.
Downie, just 20, is already at a crossroads in his career. We all know about the tragedy he has faced in his life, his father dying in a car accident when Steve was a kid and a hearing disorder (he is deaf in his right ear). But without trying to sound heartless, it's time to move on. It is not like he's the only kid to ever face adversity in his life.
It is time for Downie to mature. All he has to do is look up into the rafters and see No. 16 to find inspiration. Bobby Clarke is the poster child for overcoming a challenge (in his case, diabetes) to become not only a superstar and Hall of Famer, but also a role model for the likes of Downie to use as inspiration.
So what will it be, Steve? Do you want to be a player or do you want to go down as a woe-is-me-thug who never lived up to his potential?
The Downie story is one that is just begging for a happy ending. The Flyers bottomed out last year, but have done a remarkable job getting back on the right track in a hurry. Downie could be an important player on a Stanley Cup contender if he doesn't pull the rug out from under himself. He could be Claude Lemieux ... or Pat Verbeek ... or Darren McCarty ... a gritty player who keeps the opposition honest, while giving his team a chance to succeed.
Frankly, I've grown a little tired of this kid's antics and unless he changes his tune, I'm inclined to think the NHL is better off without him. That said, I have spoken to enough people who know Downie well and believe he still has the potential to be a bona fide NHLer.
The ball is in your court, Steve.
Mike Brophy's Double OT appears regularly on thehockeynews.com.
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