Suspended Downie to start season in AHL

The Flyers on Saturday assigned forward Steve Downie to the club's AHL affiliate, the Philadelphia Phantoms.

Downie was suspended Friday by the NHL for 20 games for hitting Ottawa center Dean McAmmond in the head with a flying check during a road game last Tuesday that left McAmmond with a concussion.

According to a report from TSN of Canada, Downie will be ineligible to play until his case is reviewed by AHL commissioner David Andrews. The AHL can uphold or alter the suspension or dismiss it. Regardless of the AHL's call, Downie will still need to sit out 20 NHL games.

Flyers GM Paul Holmgren told reporters Friday that the team plans to have Downie serve the NHL suspension in blocks, calling him up from time to time to serve the 20 games. Downie has not played an NHL game with the Flyers and was expected to start the season in the minor leagues. But injuries this week to forwards Scottie Upshall, R.J. Umberger and Joffrey Lupul boosted the chances that the 20-year-old prospect could have started the year with the big club.

"He can go the American League and play," Holmgren was quoted as saying in the Philadelphia Daily News. "Our plan is to make this suspension go away as quickly as possible. And because of our cap situation, we're probably going to have to get creative."

Holmgren added that the 20-year-old forward would be recalled to the big club on days the AHL team is not playing.

"I've talked to the league about this," Holmgren told local reporters. "When we carry him on our roster, we're pushing the limit of the cap, so there is punishment to the Flyers, as well."

Downie received a match penalty during Tuesday's game. His suspension matched the fourth-longest in league history, falling five games shy of the league record handed down against Islanders forward Chris Simon for his two-handed stick attack to the face of Ryan Hollweg of the New York Rangers in March.

McAmmond was taken off the ice on a stretcher in the second period of the preseason game and is out indefinitely.

McAmmond has a history of concussions and was knocked out of the playoffs last spring after a hit to the head by Anaheim defenseman Chris Pronger. Pronger received a one-game ban for that hit, one of many leveled at the head last season that forced the NHL to crack down.

Downie said after the game he thought he delivered a clean hit.

"My game is hitting and finishing checks," Downie said. "I'm just trying to earn a spot on a roster. It's part of my game and I apologize for him getting hurt. I thought I got him clean. Unfortunately he hit the boards after."

McAmmond had lost possession of the puck and was skating behind the Philadelphia net when he was sent to the ice by Downie's flying check at 2:39 of the second period. Downie's feet left the ice before the violent collision.

Senators team doctor Don Chow immediately went to McAmmond's aid even as players from both teams squared off in the aftermath with Ottawa enforcer Brian McGrattan going after Downie.

McAmmond did not move his hands or his feet while he was strapped onto the stretcher and taken off the ice.

"The primary concern of our organization was, and continues to be, the health of Dean McAmmond," Senators GM Bryan Murray said in a statement. "We feel the number of games of the suspension is appropriate, and the NHL has sent the correct message to address the severity of hits to the head like this one."

Downie's temper was triggered only moments earlier when Ottawa's Chris Schubert drove him face first into the glass, giving Campbell a reason to believe the hit was intentional.

Downie called McAmmond and apologized, but Ottawa coach John Paddock called for Downie to be suspended "for a long time."

"I tried to stay as free as I could from any of the outside influences and just dealt with what I had to deal with," Campbell said.

Other suspensions of at least 20 games include: Boston's Marty McSorley in Feb. 2000, for knocking out Vancouver's Donald Brashear with a stick-swinging hit (23 games); Tampa Bay's Gordie Dwyer (23 games) for abusing officials and coming out of the penalty box to fight in an exhibition game in 2000; and Washington's Dale Hunter (21 games) for a blindside check of Pierre Turgeon of the New York Islanders after a goal in a 1993 playoff game.

Vancouver's Todd Bertuzzi, Chicago's Tom Lysiak and Phoenix's Brad May all served 20-game suspensions.

Campbell said another consideration for punishment in vicious hits to the head is if a player is a repeat offender. Downie was suspended in junior hockey for fighting with a teammate and he later punched an opponent in the face after a faceoff.

Campbell said he was aware of Downie's past behavior but did not hold it against him because the hits weren't in the NHL.

"When it comes to our league, he has a clean slate," Campbell said. "We do not consider what he does in any other league."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.