Downie suspension fourth longest in NHL history

PHILADELPHIA -- Flyers rookie Steve Downie's NHL debut is on hold. So is Dean McAmmond's 13-year career.

Downie received a 20-game suspension from the NHL on Friday for leaving his feet to deliver a deliberate and dangerous hit to the head of the Ottawa forward, one of the longest punishments in league history.

"It's a hit that as soon you see it live, you think, 'This is going to be a bad one,'" NHL disciplinarian Colin Campbell said.

Downie received a match penalty and was automatically suspended until Friday's hearing in Toronto. 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.

"I'm disappointed with the outcome," Downie said. "But I'm going to take this in a positive way, work hard, get in better shape and be prepared for when the suspension is over."

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

"The hit was deliberate, dangerous and has no place in our league," Campbell said. "He crossed a line in a wholehearted way."

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.

"I feel the ruling is strong enough to prevent these things from happening in the future," McAmmond said in a statement on the team's Web site. "At this point, the NHL needs to a make a statement to try to protect players, and I hope that a suspension of this length will do that successfully."

Campbell said Downie's hit met the four requirements for a stiff punishment on a blow to a player's head: The head was intentionally targeted; a player launched himself by leaving his feet to hit a player in the head area; the hit was delivered to an unsuspecting opponent; and the lateness of the hit.

"My reaction is that it seems like a lot of games, but Colin Campbell is in a very difficult position and we respect his position and his judgment in this case," Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren said. "We will live with it. I was with Steve during the hearing and was with him after the verdict. He is very upset and understandably so. He understands the ramifications and he is prepared to live with this decision."

Campbell said Downie would be available to play for the Flyers' AHL affiliate. The Flyers played a preseason game Friday night at Washington.

Flyers All-Star forward Simon Gagne called the penalty "unfair."

"I've seen worse in the past and the league was a lot easier on guys," Gagne told The Associated Press. "If Steve's the first guy to have to take all those games for it, hopefully the league's going to be consistent if something like that happens in the future. I hope they will be severe like they are with Steve. I hope Steve's not going to be the only guy."

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 Flyers.

Now he waits.

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 his 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."

Downie will forfeit $63,101.60 in salary.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.