|Downie's slewfoot on Sidney Crosby in 2010. (Screengrab via Broadstreethockey.com)|
|Bylsma and Shero at the Winter Classic (Photo courtesy of ABCnews.com)|
After the Penguins blew the 3-1 lead to the New York Rangers at the end of last year's postseason, I was pretty shocked and angry. At first I called for everyone to be fired, but after a few days passed, I began to ease my stance. I thought similar thoughts in my head that I had thought in previous years -- "they ran into a hot goaltender" -- "Crosby and Malkin were off this postseason. They will get them next time." I was clearly in denial there was a problem that needed to be addressed. The Penguins needed new leadership. More importantly than that, they needed to add grit to their lineup. Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin had been beat around the ice for the majority of the postseason with no real response from anyone. Enter Steve Downie. "No!" I thought. "Not that Steve Downie -- I can't accept that..."
|Dean McAmmond gets taken off of the ice on a stretcher courtesy of Steve Downie. (AP Photo/Jonathan Hayward)|
2. Angry With the Decision to Sign Downie
I was pretty vocal about my displeasure with the Downie signing at the time. After the Penguins had just traded James Neal to the Predators partially because of him being a locker room distraction at times, this move seemed like a stretch to me. Sure, the Penguins needed a culture change, but was this the direction they wanted to go? After being so outspoken about how the NHL needed to change their own culture and clean up a lot of the garbage, the organization settled on Steve Downie? The same person who cross-checked an OHL teammate...in the face. The same person who illegally checked Dean McAmmond into the boards for a 20 game suspension? I mentioned the hit on Crosby above, but how about the same person who slashed a linesman as a member of the AHL Norfolk Admirals? This was the person the Penguins wanted as a representative of their organization? I was angry with the choice. It did not make a lot of sense to me.
3. Bargaining With Myself
For those unaware, the third stage in the grief model is bargaining. This is normally where a person tries or hopes they can undo the change or avoid the cause of the grief. At this point in my thought process, I hoped for the best. Maybe Steve Downie would have a horrible training camp and find himself playing for Wilkes-Barre. It has happened previously when he split time between Norfolk and Tampa Bay. Maybe I wouldn't have to see him on the Penguins very much. Sure, he'd still technically be on the team, but out of sight, out of mind, right? Even if he only played every so often, I could just change the channel when his line was on the ice. This was seeming less and less likely with Downie's pedigree because on the other hand, he is a former first-round draft pick and former 20 goal scorer. I began to slip into the fourth stage...
|Downie in the 2nd period of the preseason game against the Wild (Gene J. Puskar/The Tribune-Democrat)|
The first preseason game I was able to watch was against the Minnesota Wild. It did not take very long for it to happen. A few minutes into the first period I see number 23 leave the bench. For the first time since seeing he was signed in the preseason and reading a number of tidbits about him, I see "Downie" on the back of a Pittsburgh Penguins jersey. The best comparison from another sport that comes to mind is if I was ever unfortunate enough to see Ray Lewis in a Steelers' jersey. It just did not feel right to me. The Penguins have been an easy team to root for all these years. I did not even want to think about the fact that Daniel Carcillo's foot was healed and he would play the following game against the Blue Jackets. What is this franchise trying to do to me? How was I going to get behind someone like Steve Downie? I didn't like the feeling of uncertainty as a fan of how one of the players may act. I felt a bit of shame for rooting on the team with a player like Downie as a part of it. Right when I hit my lowest point, I think about a quote from Downie when he first signed with the team:
"Whatever team I have played on, I like to go out of my way to stick up for my teammates. Every team needs a couple of guys like that."
Downie Taking on the Islanders Team (Vine via @MadChad412)
I am not going to lie to everyone and say that I have done a complete 180 on Steve Downie. I still look at his name on a Penguins' jersey and it doesn't feel right to me. That said, he is clearly playing his role beautifully so far. When Sidney Crosby and Kris Letang had a bit of an exchange with Travis Hamonic and Kyle Okposo of the Islanders a couple of weeks back, Steve Downie was right there challenging them. He made good on his promise with a bone-crushing check to Frans Nielsen in the 3rd period and an ensuing fight/takedown on Travis Hamonic. Similarly, when the Penguins played the Kings this past week and a few members of the Kings, like Jarret Stoll, were antagonizing Evgeni Malkin, Steve Downie was there once again:
|Jarret Stoll and Steve Downie in the 2nd Period of Thursday's Game (screengrab via @Shnarped)|