VANCOUVER -- Brent Sutter had a short but revealing answer yesterday when he was asked about the status of Steve Downie for a world junior semi-final tomorrow night.
"He's fine,"Sutter said. "He's Steve Downie."
The implication was clear -- it would require much more than a flagrant elbow on the part of U.S. defenceman Jack Johnson late in Canada's 3-2 victory on Saturday night to keep Downie out. Downie told the gathered reporters at a waterfront hotel he will be ready to go against the winner of tonight's quarter-final between Finland and Sweden.
"It was an elbow to the chops, and he did not get me full-on, but he sure got me," Downie said. "I did not see (a replay of the incident). Hey, stuff like that happens. I'm good to go."
That Downie and determination are constant companions is no surprise to those who have watched him play. Canada assistant coach Craig Hartsburg, much to his dismay, learned the Downie lesson during the OHL playoffs last season. Hartsburg coaches the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds and in the first round, his club held 3-0 lead over Downie and the Windsor Spitfires. But the Spits won the next four games, becoming the first OHL team in 17 years to erase a 3-0 deficit. Downie, who would go on to be picked 29th overall by the Philadelphia Flyers and later be traded to the Peterborough Petes by Windsor, was excellent. He had a point on each of the Spits' four game-winning goals.
"Once the desperation kicked in, the bigger the game and the bigger the moment, he stepped up," Hartsburg said. "Every other team in the league hates him, but when he is on your team, you just know the importance of what he is going to bring. It's what he is doing now. It's almost like he gets on a mission where he is just going to get something done."
Downie began the tournament down the pecking order among Canada's forwards but has emerged as one of the team's most consistent performers up front, along with linemate Dustin Boyd.
Downie has one goal and four assists, kills penalties and plays on the power play. All the while, he's cruising the ice, thinking of throwing his next big hit or knowing just what to say to throw off an opponent.
Downie personifies the ideal player in the mind of Sutter, who loves, as he puts it, Downie's "junkyard dog mentality."
"That's the way I like to play and I am going to keep playing that way the rest of my life," Downie, an 18-year-old native of Queensville, Ont., said.
"I am not really concerned about what role I am going to play. I am just happy to be here and give it all I got."
Hartsburg will have to go back to disliking Downie once the two are back in the OHL. But that only comes from having a large dose of respect for the kid.
"He would do absolutely anything on the ice to win a hockey game," Hartsburg said. "Sometimes maybe he goes over the edge, but at the same time his heart is in the right spot."