The Virginian-Pilot
                             THE VIRGINIAN-PILOT 
              Copyright (c) 1995, Landmark Communications, Inc.

DATE: Thursday, December 14, 1995            TAG: 9512140526
SECTION: SPORTS                   PAGE: C1   EDITION: FINAL 
DATELINE: NORFOLK                            LENGTH: Long  :  107 lines


Aaron Downey is supposed to be the Hampton Roads Admirals' resident tough guy, a powerful forward with deadly fists and a fiery temperament.

Goal scoring? Not part of the arsenal. The Admirals expected just two things from Downey: play hard-nosed defense and protect the team's skill players.

But lately, Downey has added a new dimension to his game. The 6-foot, 205-pound Ontario native has scored five goals in his last five games, a statistic that has amazed coach John Brophy.

``He's been the surprise of the season,'' Brophy said.

Downey had just 10 goals in 40 games last season in junior league. He has seven in 24 games this year.

``He hasn't had a big background in hockey,'' Brophy said. ``He does it all on desire. He pushes himself to the edge all the time. His skating has improved 100 percent and he's starting to improve his shot.

``He's got the mentality of a wolverine.''

That he does. Just ask Brian Goudie, who was a feared fighter for the Admirals for parts of the last three seasons. It seems that Goudie, who plays in Richmond, and Downey have a feud running back to junior hockey.

The feud boiled over two weeks ago at center ice of the Richmond Coliseum. After exchanging angry words, the players dropped their gloves and stalked each other for several seconds, skating in circles. Even the referee and linesmen appeared enthralled with the confrontation. They moved sticks and gloves out of the way and didn't bother to try to keep the other players under control.

Downey waited for Goudie to attack, then pummeled him with a left that drew a stream blood from Goudie's nose. They pounded at each other for nearly two minutes before being separated.

Downey says he broke Goudie's nose. Goudie says Downey simply re-aggravated an old injury. Regardless, Goudie underwent surgery a few days later and did not return to the ice until Tuesday night.

Downey insists the fight had more to do with Goudie's antics this season than their old junior hockey feud.

``When we were playing in Richmond at the beginning of the year, Gouds tried to rough me up behind the net,'' Downey said. ``He took two minor penalties, gave us a four-minute power play and we scored a goal.

``I swallowed my pride when he punched me in the head, called me some names and slashed me in the back. He wanted to go with me and I wanted to go with him. But I looked down at our bench and we were down to two lines. There was no way I could fight. It wasn't fair to my teammates.

``So our next time there, he was kind of being an idiot to our players. I said, `Let's do it fair and square, at center ice.'

``It was a good fight. He got some punches in, and so did I.''

Downey's toughness and work ethic comes from his rural background. He grew up on a 2,500-acre potato farm in Shelbourne, where preparing for a professional hockey career wasn't part of the dawn-to-dusk routine.

He planted potatoes, cultivated the fields, harvested potatoes by the ton and even fixed the motors on tractors and trucks. And all as a youngster.

``I'd work 70 or 80 hours per week,'' he said. ``Other guys would go out and lift weights and work on their skating. I never had the time. All I knew was work.''

The potato farm prospered, but not surprisingly, Downey's hockey career didn't. Last winter he played for Cole Harbor in Nova Scotia, a mid-level junior team for 20-year-olds, posted average numbers and drew no offers for tryouts with professional teams. His career seemed at a dead end.

Yet Cole Harbor coach Bob Boucher, a former Philadelphia Flyers assistant, saw a potential late bloomer in Downey. He called Brophy and got him a tryout with the Admirals.

Downey then surprised the Admirals brass by surviving the cut.

A two-time Canadian Greco-Roman wrestling champion, Downey has become a crowd favorite this season. Part of the reason is his reckless style of play. Most of his goals have come from outhustling opponents, not from skilled shots.

But it's also partially a result of his unusual personality.

Tuesday night, at the annual Christmas party thrown by the Admirals Booster Club, Downey requested, and received, edible underwear as a present. He then brought the house down by doing a two-minute, on-stage impression of Michael Jackson.

``I'm having a blast playing hockey here,'' he said. ``I've never played for a team like this. We're winning and the fans are so good to you.

``My goal, eventually, is to take over the family farm. But my hockey career is just starting. I'm going to give it a couple of years, and give it my best shot. I'm going to tell my dad that I want to take the summer off, to work on my skating, to lift weights, to take my hockey seriously.''

Harvesting potatoes can wait. He's too busy harvesting goals.

Ron Magic, one of the Admirals most physical and popular players last season, has returned to the team and will play Friday against Roanoke at Scope.

Magic, who had 261 penalty minutes and 16 points last season in 55 games, was released earlier this week by the Saint John Flames of the American Hockey League, with whom he had signed a 25-game contract.

``Ron Magic adds a lot of character to the locker room and creates an aura when he's on the ice,'' assistant coach Al MacIsaac said of the 6-foot-4 Magic.

Magic's presence assures that the Admirals will have a full complement of 17 skaters. Injuries to Sean Selsmer, Ron Pascucci and Claude Fillion had reduced the team to 16 skaters. ILLUSTRATION: HUY NGUYEN COLOR PHOTOS/The Virginian-Pilot

Aaron Downey has scored five goals in his last five games. ``He's

been the surprise of the season,'' Brophy said.

by CNB