On the ice, it’s hard to imagine two guys with as different of personas as Karl Alzner and Steve Downie. Alzner is the calm, composed Capitals defenseman while Downie is known to rile up opponents with words and often some questionable hits.
Yet the two are friends dating to their time with the 2006 Canadian world junior team.
“He’s kind of a buddy of mine, so I can’t say too, too much bad,” Alzner said of the Lightning’s agitator. “I’ve just kinda said hi on the ice and stuff. … He’s one of those guys you just kinda give a nod to and that stuff.”
No one spoke higher of Downie this week than Alzner, who said on a scale from 1 to 10 – with 10 being Sean Avery, Downie was an 8, 9 or 10. He was suspended one game during the first round for leaving his feet to hit Pittsburgh’s Ben Lovejoy and was the owner of a 20-game ban back in 2007 for a vicious hit to the head of Dean McAmmond.
“He’s one of those guys who plays on the line and occasionally he goes over, but he’s pretty good at kinda tippy-toeing along that,” Alzner said. “He’s really good at his job, and he’s a skilled player, too. It also makes it tough when he’s chirping in your ear and then goes out and scores a goal or gets a nice assist. Then it’s difficult to handle. But it’s to the point now where nothing else matters except what we’re doing.”
When Downie can stay out of the penalty box and agitate, he’s an even more effective player for his team than Avery is for the Rangers. Alzner said he and his teammates got used to Avery and linemates Brandon Prust and Brian Boyle midway through that series and learned a lesson about just skating away.
Between the whistles, though, the Caps aren’t overlooking Downie, who had a team-best six assists in the Lightning’s first-round victory over the Penguins.
“He can play the game and he’s physical and he’s an agitator and he knows how to get under people’s skin,” Caps coach Bruce Boudreau said. “He’s done it all in his four years, I think, in the league. You gotta pay attention to him in a lot of different ways.”
And while Alzner and Downie have a friendship off the ice, don’t expect the pleasantries to continue during this series.
“There’s no friends when you’re out there,” Alzner said.