Rick Tocchet and Steve Downie Reunited in Pittsburgh by @ChicksDigHockey




Rick Tocchet knows all about being a bad ass. Search him on YouTube and you can find enough scrums to keep you occupied all day.  No one would ever accuse Tocchet of being a goon but he began his career mainly known as a fighter. He worked hard to hone his skills and became known as a power forward who also happened to take zero crap. He topped the 30-goal mark four straight years for the Flyers and helped the club come within a game of winning the Stanley Cup in 1987. 

Steve Downie began his career as a crazy bad ass. Downie was selected in the first round, 29th overall, in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft by the Philadelphia Flyers. Not long after being drafted, Downie was suspended for five games early in the 2005–06 OHL season for an on-ice altercation with teammate Akim Aliu. During a practice on September 28, 2005, Downie blindly cross-checked Aliu in the face without warning, knocking out 3 of his teeth. Downie was ordered to undergo professional counseling.  



Tocchet in the NHL
 
Tocchet played for six teams over an 18-year NHL career, beginning and ending with the Flyers. In the mid to late 80’s Rick Tocchet was Flyers hockey. This guy did it all, he fought, hit, scored clutch goals and had a sick hockey mullet. Every woman in Philadelphia wanted to be with him and every man wanted to be like him. In 1989, a movie detailing the Flyers 1988-89 season called  “Never Say Die” was released.  The beginning of that movie featured slow motion footage of  young Rick Tocchet jogging in a belly baring shirt with glorious wind-blown mullet; the ultimate example of Flyer cool in the day. 

In 1992, Tocchet was traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins, along with Kjell Samuelsson and Ken Wregget, in exchange for Mark Recchi. In 14 playoff games, he scored 19 points, helping the Penguins repeat as Stanley Cup champions. Tocchet bounced around the league after that finally ending his playing career where it began as a Flyer. He retired after 2001–02 season and found his way behind the bench.

Downie in the NHL

Downie’s early career continued down a contentious path. In his NHL debut (a 2007 preseason game against Ottawa), Downie received a match penalty for a vicious hit he leveled on Ottawa's Dean McAmmond. Downie launched himself, leaving his feet, and targeted McAmmond’s head.  McAmmond suffered a concussion as a result of the hit and was taken off the ice on a stretcher.   When the play was reviewed by the league, Downie was assessed a stiff 20 game suspension. 

While Downie did reach out to McAmmond in a phoned apology that week, he was labeled as a dirty player before his professional career barely began. 

On November 7, 2008, Downie was traded by the Flyers to the Tampa Bay Lightning. He split the season between Norfolk Admirals and Tampa Bay.  His reputation for unnecessary aggressive behavior was further developed.  In the third period of the Admirals' game against the Hershey Bears on February 28, 2009,  Downie slashed linesman Mike Hamilton in the shin before a face-off following a controversial empty-net goal.  Downie was given a game misconduct for physical abuse of an official.  Ultimately, the AHL handed him another 20 game suspension.

Tocchet and Downie together

Enter TBL head coach, at the time, Rick Tocchet.  He saw something in Downie that went beyond his antics on the ice. Tocchet worked to develop a rapport with Downie both on and off the ice. He worked with Downie to channel his aggressive physicality into a positive presence on the ice.  Under Tocchet’s tutelage, Downie fit in very nicely on a line with Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis in Tampa Bay.  He produced 22 goals playing on that line while being a deterrent to others who might “take liberties” with Stamkos or St Louis. 

Tocchet and Downie parted company when the former was fired as head coach while the latter was traded to the Avs. By all accounts, Tocchet was the mentor Downie needed.  He ‘got’ who Downie was and brought out the best in him. 

It came as little surprise then that when Rick Tocchet was given the nod as the Penguins’ assistant head coach, Steve Downie eagerly inked a one year deal for the opportunity to be reunited with his old coach. 

It seems the two are happy to be together as coach and player again. 

“It just made sense,” Downie told the Trib's Josh Yohe. “You only hear good things about the organization and the city of Pittsburgh. And playing for Rick was one of the main factors. It's a great relationship we have. He's really a great communicator with me. I enjoy playing for him.”

"He played excellent for me,” Tocchet related to PG's Dave Molinari “That’s the memory I have of him...It’s not out of the question for him to be able to play with Sidney Crosby some of the time."
For his part, Downie, who has suffered from life-long hearing loss leading to balance issues, seems to be preparing himself for success in Pittsburgh. He recently underwent ear surgery has been working in Toronto with former Penguins forward Gary Roberts to improve his conditioning.  “I really can't wait to get to Pittsburgh,” he said. “I think it's going to be a good thing for me.”
By all accounts, Tocchet is excited to be behind the bench in Pittsburgh and ready to imprint his stamp in anyway Coach Johnston sees fit. If you're looking for an indication he may have plans for reviving the career of his former pupil that may be found in what he told PG's Shelly Anderson:  "Do I like a gritty player? Absolutely."

They don't come any grittier than Steve Downie.





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