If there was such a thing as The Red Wing You’d Most Like To Buy A Beer, then I’d reserve that cold one for Aaron Downey.

This would be after a hearty handshake and hug, and a slap on the back for good measure.

Downey, no. 20 in your program but no. 1 in brawn, is the Red Wings’ first legitimate tough guy since a couple of dudes named Probert and Kocur terrorized the NHL. He’s providing what’s been long absent in the team’s lineup: someone who’ll keep opposing bruisers off the backs of the Red Wings’ skill players.

“My role is to keep people from hitting guys like (Henrik) Zetterberg,” Downey said the other day.

Earlier in the season, Downey told reporters that as long as he’s in the lineup, the other team is on notice.

“Nobody’s going to be taking any liberties,” he said.

That’s another reason I want to purchase a brewski for Downey. He doesn’t make any bones about it; no sugarcoating the matter. He’s a fighter, enjoys being a fighter, and will continue to be a fighter, shamelessly. Downey’s had three bouts so far, and after each, his teammates have praised him. He’s a 33-year-old NHL veteran of six clubs who has no delusions about his place in hockey society. Google him in the “images” filter, and several photos pop up of him in various NHL uniforms, mixing it up with his fists. One year in the AHL, Downey amassed over 400 penalty minutes.


Downey (left) in typical repose

This isn’t another hockey oldtimer espousing senseless violence. But there’s nothing wrong with protecting your talented studs from the ne’er-do-wells on other teams who would try to get them off their game by knocking them around a little bit. Downey embraces his policeman’s role and would appear to not want to have it any other way.

It’s refreshing, frankly, in this day and age of an NHL that looks at fighting as just another bad “F” word, to find a guy like Downey still patrolling the ice. He’s a throwback, Aaron Downey is, to a time when every team carried a couple of sluggers on their roster. There was a time for crisp passes and breathtaking plays, but also a time for fisticuffs.

Downey, last night in the Red Wings’ 5-3 win over Calgary, started in on the Flames defenseman Dion Phaneuf early. He seemed to challenge Phaneuf to a dance before a face-off, but Phaneuf wisely declined the offer. Then Downey got into Phaneuf’s face, anyway, during the ensuing play. Later, Downey started barking at other Flames players.

Red Wings coach Mike Babcock, with the home team’s advantage in line changes, seemed to delight in putting Downey on the ice with the abrasive Phaneuf. There can be method to the madness when you have a pot-stirrer like Downey in the lineup.

The Red Wings have tried tough-guy-by-committee in the past several years, sometimes asking players like Brendan Shanahan to pull double-duty as scoring power forward and enforcer. Darren McCarty filled the enforcer’s shoes ably, but his charge was to check and muck first, and fight second. Aaron Downey is a fighter first, and rarely plays more than 8-10 minutes per game. He might spend more time in the penalty box than on the ice most nights, when all is said and done. But he’s not hurting the team by doing so; he’s very much helping it.

As Downey himself says, “guys like Zetterberg” — and Pavel Datsyuk and Jiri Hudler and the rest — need to know that someone’s on the bench who can keep the other team honest. The Red Wings really haven’t had that person in recent years. Until now.

That certainly is deserving of a cold one, don’t you think?

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