Undeterred, one shift after being whistled for a rare and probably improper clipping call, Lightning defenseman Radko Gudas went right back to making his presence known along the boards.
His eraser move in the first period Sunday caught the attention of the Carolina Hurricanes, several of whom looked to have words with the hard-nosed Tampa Bay blueliner who has a penchant for making big hits.
“That's what makes him a ball player,'' Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “I've seen it for three years. And as an organization we are extremely happy that he's on our team and not somebody else's.''
The 22-year-old defenseman arrived in Tampa on March 12 with the reputation for being a big-time hitter in the American Hockey League. Gudas has continued that in his brief time in the NHL.
In only 20 games since his NHL debut, Gudas has amassed 81 hits, which ranks tied for third among rookie defenseman despite his having played significantly fewer games than Brendan Dillon (123 hits with Dallas), Eric Gryba (84, Ottawa) and Michael Stone (81, Phoenix).
Gudas also ranks tied for third on Tampa Bay, just seven hits behind leader Keith Aulie. Should he play in each of the final three games— not a given since Syracuse begins the AHL playoffs on Saturday — he could overtake the team lead.
“He definitely has brought that all year,'' Lightning captain Vinny Lecavalier said. “He's a solid, solid defenseman and he keeps guys honest in the neutral zone. It's not fun to play against a guy like that.''
Gudas grew up watching his father, Leo, use his body to deliver big-time hits during a 13-year career in Europe. Leo Gudas also was a six-time member of the Czechoslovakian national team, including the 1992 team that won a Bronze medal at the Olympics.
Father and son share almost an identical build – Leo was 6-foot, 190 pounds while Radko is 6-foot, 200-pounds — and a similar style of play. It's not by accident.
“I grew up watching hockey the way it used to be in the late 1990s early 2000s, and my dad, that was his style, too,'' Gudas said. “So, I get it from watching him. And I really liked it and fans obviously love it.''
The perfectly timed hit is a bit of a lost art form, especially the type Gudas delivers when he drops down for a hip check, which is rarely seen in the NHL these days. In his two-plus seasons in the Lightning minor-league system, Gudas made a name for himself with his ability to deliver those board-rattling hits that often send opposing players flying head over heels.
In his 20 games at the NHL level, he has certainly delivered his fair share of hits — he averages four per game — but has yet to find that signature moment when the play develops and he times it perfectly for the hit that will get the fans on their feet, lift his teammates on the bench and probably draw the ire of the opposing team.
It's something he has worked on a good part of his career and perfected at all levels. At some point, he expects to figure out the timing at the NHL level, as well. He will revel in the feeling it will create.
“The whole team is watching where the puck is, and when somebody with the puck gets hit and flies over somebody else, it gives that little spark to your teammates and maybe the fans start to cheer louder, the energy of the building gives the team a little more of a spark,'' Gudas said. “Obviously, if I'm the guy who delivers it, it gets me up a little and it's something I like.''