Flyers take Downie under their wings

MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:31 AM ET

There has been little reason for Steve Downie to flash his gap-toothed grin recently.

Smiles have been few and far between for the Queensville, Ont., native, who continues to find himself in limbo after his much publicized cross-check and subsequent scraps with Windsor Spitfires teammate Akim Aliu last month.

But even with his chipped choppers and fat lip, Downie, 18, allowed himself to publicly display his enthusiasm on a number of occasions yesterday.

Like during the morning skate, when he stared at Peter Forsberg and Derian Hatcher, two of his boyhood idols.

Or how about during the Maple Leafs-Philadelphia Flyers game last night, a tilt he watched with Philly general manager Bob Clarke from the Air Canada Centre press box.

With Downie having not played competitive hockey for a number of weeks, the Flyers invited him to spend the day with the team. The itinerary included participating in the game day skate, taking part in the team meal, then viewing the game with the Flyers GM.

"It was great for Mr.Clarke to come out here and allow me to share in this experience," said Downie, the Flyers' first-round pick in the 2005 entry draft who has been skating with Tier 2 Junior A teams in Newmarket and Aurora.

"Guys I grew up watching like Forsberg and Hatcher, it has just been unbelievable to be around them. To be able to watch how they act off the ice, how they work, it has been a good experience. They treated me like anyone else. I walked in, they said, 'Hey, how's it going,' that was about it.

"My family, my agents, everyone has been behind me. I have really good support and am lucky to have that."

Facing possible litigation down the road, Downie politely refused comment on any matters concerning the Spitfires incident. Suspended for five games by Windsor management, Downie did reiterate that he would like to be traded.

The Spits are said to have received a number of offers for Downie but have yet to act. If a deal has not been made by next week, his handlers are poised to have him sign with Laredo of the Central Hockey League, a team coached by former NHLer Terry Ruskowski.

"He's hurt, the team is hurt, the league is hurt," said Clarke, who met with Downie on Oct. 11 to offer support while, at the same time, admonishing him for his actions.

"Someone has to do something to get the kid playing again. We just want to get him on the ice and doing something."


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