Monday, July 25, 2011

Memory Monday: Aaron Downey

He may have only played 46 regular season games and 1 playoff contest for the Montreal Canadiens over 2 seasons, and even in those games rarely hit the 10 minute mark, but Aaron Downey was a valuable member of the Habs during his time with the organization.

A traditional tough guy out of the Gino Odjick ilk (that is to say a Canadian pick-up truck-driving farm boy turned professional hockey player), Downey was claimed off waivers by the Canadiens from the St. Louis Blues during the 2005-06 season. He came to Montreal with a reputation as a strong fighter, built in part from perhaps the most famous fight of his career, this one-punch knockout against Jesse Boulerice of the Carolina Hurricanes:

Unfortunately, by the time he joined the Habs at age 31, his best fighting days were behind him. In fact, his most famous scrap as a Canadien was this blooper "bout" against Brad Norton of the Ottawa Senators which became a popular YouTube viral video:

But still, in Montreal, Downey should be remembered for much more than his fights. And no, I'm not referring to the 2 goals and 4 assists he amassed in the blue-blanc-rouge, though in his defense it remains 1 goal more than Georges Laraque's 2-season totals with the CH.

Habs fans should recall the 2005-06 season. The Canadiens boasted a strong back end (Andrei Markov, Sheldon Souray, Mike Komisarek, Craig Rivet, Francis Bouillon, Mark Streit...) in front of an emerging and hot Cristobal Huet in nets. Despite this, the team skidded mid-season, and it appeared that a hot start was now in jeopardy of falling out of a playoff position. How did the Canadiens turn the momentum around? Legend had it that to snap the players out of their funk, Aaron Downey loaded his truck with a bag of potatoes from his family farm for each of his teammates and delivered it to them at practice one morning. Perhaps it was just a coincidence, but the timing of this super potato delivery coincided with the start of a hot streak that would eventually allow the club to solidify their playoff standing before eventually bowing out in 6 games to the Carolina Hurricanes during the series of the infamous Justin Williams missed high stick to Saku Koivu's eye.

This gesture earned Downey the amicable nickname of Potatoes from internet Habs faithful, and inspired a series of playoff-support Avatars on popular hockey forum (of which this site is a partner) with Canadiens players on a backdrop of a mountain of potatoes.

During the 06-07 season, it was decided that Downey's services were no longer needed in Montreal, and he was waived down to the American Hockey League before emerging the following season with the Detroit Red Wings. He returned to Detroit in 2008-09, but spent most of the year in the American League, making a brief appearance as a scoring superstar for the Wings by picking up 1 G and 1 A in just 4 games - a clip at which he had never scored at any level of hockey! In this sense, for a class act of a hockey player, we could say that Downey went out at the top of his game.

Where is he now? Following his retirement, he was appropriately appointed Strength & Conditioning Coach of Detroit's AHL afiliate in Grand Rapids. We can only wonder if he now has Griffins players training off-ice using sacks of potatoes as weights.

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