Steve Downie had a productive summer in the gym. Now he is determined to carry that over onto the ice.
Downie came to training camp in the best shape of his professional career, with a chance to win a larger role for the Lightning.
“My focus was getting stronger, faster and quicker,” Downie said. “I accomplished that. It was a good summer.”
Downie, 22, opened some eyes with his play when he was in Tampa last season. He displayed some offensive potential to go along with his toughness.
Coach Rick Tocchet said Downie has good hands and was solid along the wall. He just wanted to see the 6-foot, 195-pound forward improve his fitness level. That was no surprise to Downie. He felt it himself.
“I was slow, I wasn’t strong, I wasn’t able to push people off the puck and make quick moves,” Downie said. “I just felt sluggish at practice some days.”
Downie knew he had to change the way he prepared for this season. He had run a lot before last season – 200 and 400 meters, and even three-mile jaunts. Initially it went well, but he didn’t feel strong on the ice as the season went on.
The new process began late last season when he met with Lightning Strength Coach Chuck Lobe and Strength and Conditioning Consultant Kevin Zeigler.
“They explained what they do,” Downie said. “It all made sense. I felt it would be the best thing for me.”
Downie traveled to Eden Prairie, Minn. to learn the workout plan, went home for three weeks, then returned to work more with Lobe and Ziegler throughout August. Many teammates and other players from various NHL teams also went through the fitness programs at Velocity Sports Performance.
The Newmarket, Ontario native said he could feel the difference and it showed on paper as well. Downie’s body fat dropped from 12.0 to 7.5.
“I wasn’t really focused on losing body fat,” Downie said. “I didn’t think I was that fat. But 12 to 7 is a big difference.”
The training was more focused on power explosion and quick sprints. Downie looked strong in the testing drills on opening day of training camp. Tocchet said his times were good.
“I’m in a routine now,” Downie said. “I’m just sticking to it and trying to keep it going.”
Downie was a first-round pick of the Philadelphia Flyers in 2005, 29th overall. He was known as a physical player for his size, but could produce points. He won gold medals for Team Canada in the 2006 and 07 World Junior Championships. In the 2006-07 season, sharing time between Peterborough and Kitchener of the Ontario Hockey League, he had a combined 35 goals and 92 points in 45 games. He also compiled 22 points in nine playoff games for Kitchener.
After playing 32 games with the Flyers in 2007-08 (six goals, six assists), Downie said he got off to a rough start in Philadelphia last season. He wasn’t getting the ice time he desired. When Downie came to Tampa in a trade, he said it was a fresh start for him.
Downie had 25 points in 23 games for Norfolk of the American Hockey League and three goals and three assists in 23 games for the Lightning. He had some good moments with the puck in Tampa Bay and a memorable one without it, fighting 6-foot-3, 247-pound Dustin Byfuglien of Chicago. Byfuglien had taken a run at Lightning center Steven Stamkos seconds before.
“It had to be done,” Downie said, after the game.
Lightning veteran center Jeff Halpern noticed.
“He had already earned our respect the way he’s played,” Halpern said that night. “The only thing I’m disappointed in was that we did not kill the penalty for him. You don’t want guys taking runs at your star players. I thought it was great what he did.”
Downie said he came to training camp the last two seasons in Philadelphia at the bottom, trying to work his way up to a bigger role. Now he is in the middle of a battle with several players for minutes on the top two lines.
Whatever his role, it will work itself out through the preseason.
“Now it’s a situation where he’s got to be disciplined and more of a consistent player for us,” Tocchet said. “I think he’s a heck of a prospect and he’s got a really good chance at fitting a need on our team.”
In the first scrimmages, Downie played at right wing on a line with new acquisition Alex Tanguay and captain Vincent Lecavalier. Tanguay said Downie, who had an assist in the scrimmage, has good poise with the puck in the corner and good hands around the net.
Downie said he learned a lot playing with them.
“I’m just going to do the little things,” Downie said. “I’m going to focus on getting them the puck as much as I can. All the loose pucks that need to be won, I plan on winning them. With two great players like that, you don’t have to do too much.”
Stamkos stayed in contact with Downie through the summer and knew he was on the right track.
“He looks great,” Stamkos said. “I think he’s going to get an opportunity to come in here and play a big role with this team. He’s definitely willing to do the work to earn the spot. I’m sure he’s going to jump on the opportunity