Downey back in a fight
And he carries the reminders of every glove that laid him down or cut him
til he cried out in his anger and his shame
I am leaving, I am leaving, but the fighter still remains."
-- lyrics from Simon and Garfunkel's "The Boxer"
TRAVERSE CITY -- Every game for Aaron Downey is a fight. Every season is a bigger fight, trying to make, then stay on an NHL roster.
Last fall, Downey came to training camp with the Red Wings as a free agent tryout, an NHL veteran who didn't have a contract at camp, only a chance. This year, Downey is coming off a successful season in which he played a career-high 56 regular-season games. He had 10 fighting majors for a team that had 16 in the two previous seasons combined. Most of all, he was part of a Stanley Cup champion.
But Downey is back in a fight. He has a contract this time around, but it's a two-way deal, meaning it pays different rates whether he's in the NHL or AHL and makes him more likely to spend time in the minor leagues.
Aaron Downey has to prove himself again, fight for a roster spot with Darren McCarty, Darren Helm and Ville Leino.
"This team gave me an opportunity," said Downey. "That's why I'm back here today. I don't want to go sign with the Dallas Stars or someone like that like I could have. We won a championship here. We have a team bond here. I believe in loyalty and this team believes in loyalty. I believe in loyalty. I'm a farm boy."
Last year, Downey couldn't attract much interest around the NHL because of a concussion he suffered when he played with the Montreal Canadiens. The Red Wings -- a franchise looking for an enforcer -- were the one franchise that gave Downey a chance to prove his health on the ice, not just in conversation.
Downey, Matt Ellis and Derek Meech earned the final three roster spots at the end of the preseason. The day that the final roster was announced, Downey came into the locker room after practice -- a room that included Chris Chelios, Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk, Dominik Hasek -- put down his helmet and announced loudly to the media, "I'm sure you'll all want to be knowing this stuff … I was born on a farm, a poor boy raised …"
There were, however, no reporters around. It was all locker room humor.
Ellis and Meech exchanged glances. Meech was the first to start laughing. Then Ellis cracked up.
"He was so vocal that at first, you just kind of looked at him and you think, 'Is this guy serious?'" said Meech. "Then you realize why he's been in the league and how he's been around and done so well in his career is because he has such a presence in the locker room. He's able to loosen guys up and make guys feel good. He hasn't stopped doing that. He was a big part of this team last year."
Downey will quote locker room speeches from the movie "Bedazzled." He'll release one-liners faster than Brett Hull released a one-timer.
"If I come in pouting about my ice time, I'd probably see a Greyhound bus ticket pretty soon in my (locker) stall," said Downey. "That's not what they sign me for. They sign me to be a guy who has an unconditional attitude every day, wake up, come to the rink and bring a good positive light, spirit every single day."
Downey came to camp this year feeling that he needed to work on small facets of his game like holding the puck longer before making a decision, skating more with his head up. That's the sort of thing that he felt separated Darren McCarty from him last spring. When the playoffs began last year, McCarty was on the ice and Downey was watching games in street clothes.
"I learned a lot from watching Darren McCarty last year and the rest of these guys," said Downey. "I had a great year for fighting last year. I proved I can play six to eight minutes and came out on the positive. I can only get better. If I come and do my job, why can't I be here (with the Red Wings). I had other teams I could have signed with, but at the end of the day, I like this family-style atmosphere and we're going to win another championship."