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Thursday, Jun 21, 2018
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Martin Fennelly Columns

Fennelly: Lightning foes must beware the Beard

TAMPA — Last week, before a Tampa Bay Lightning game at the Forum, a young Bolts fan, no doubt a science honors student, held a homemade sign touting one of Newton's laws. We think it was Newton, anyway.

A player in motion tends to stay in motion unless acted upon by Gudas.

Meet Radko Gudas, 23, the Lightning's new law man. The rookie defenseman has quickly made a reputation as a thumper, the kind of punisher who makes opponents pass around his name and general description (beard) before games and keeps their heads up during them.

Beware the Beard.

“I'm not a dirty hitter at all,” Gudas says. “I'm just a hitter.”

Meet Radko Gudas, who generally plays clean, but will lay you out just the same. He ranks third in the NHL with 156 hits. He's the hippest hip checker in hockey, bodies flying everywhere. Some of hockey's brightest lights have been momentarily dimmed by Gudas hits, from John Tavares to Jeff Skinner to Jarome Iginla to Teemu Selanne. Iginla fought Gudas twice. Gudas held his own.

“It goes with the territory,” Gudas said.

He doesn't take up a lot of territory, not like some redwoods on NHL back lines. Gudas is 6 feet tall and weighs slightly more than 200 pounds. But Lightning center Tyler Johnson played against Gudas in juniors. He knows.

“If you've ever been hit by Gudas, you think he's 7 feet tall,” Johnson said.

“He's like brick,” said Bolts winger and Gudas friend and countryman Ondrej Palat. They'll play for the Czech Republic at next month's Sochi Olympics. Don't look now, but somebody is going to get it right between the Slovenia and Slovakia.

Palat has known Gudas since they were teenagers.

“And he already had a beard,” Palat said.

Gudas plays bigger and older than he seems. He'll make things hairy in a hurry. There was the time in November when Gudas took out Selanne in a Lightning-Ducks game at the Forum, knocking the Finnish great from here to Helsinki with a (clean) pulverizing frontal hit.

“Gudas plays the game honest,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “Gudas doesn't go and try to hurt guys. He's not dirty.”

It's a delicate line. So it is that Gudas is beloved at the Forum, where children make posters, and reviled on the road.

At the Panthers this season, Florida's Scottie Upshall squirted water on Gudas as the G Man lay on the ice near the home team's bench. Gudas smashed his stick on top of the boards in front of the Panthers. Referees ejected him. A week after Gudas drilled Selanne, the Ducks hunted him in Anaheim. Gudas suffered a concussion in a fight and missed two weeks.

Goes with the territory.

Gudas has taken 96 minutes in penalties, sixth-most in the league, and some of them very dumb. It's always a roller coaster with him.

Plus he's a marked man, which always catches up with you.

His hitting obscures some of his skills. Gudas has two goals and 12 assists. He grew his game in the minors and has become a top-four Bolts defenseman. He has a heavy shot when it's not getting blocked. He brings more than hits, as evidenced by his pass that set up Nikita Kucherov's game-winner at the New York Rangers on Tuesday night.

Plus ...

“He's a teddy bear off the ice,” Johnson said.

He's a Grizzly on it.

At least Gudas comes by it honestly.

“A lot of red meat,” he said. “And my father.”

Leo Gudas was a rugged defenseman. He never played in the NHL, though he was taken by Calgary second to last in the 1990 draft. Leo played for the Czech national team that won bronze at the 1992 Winter Olympics, then professionally for more than a decade in Europe. Dad loved when opponents had their heads down.

“He's my hero with hitting,” Radko Gudas said.

Always, Leo told Radko: You never want to hurt anyone.

“You just make sure he's on his butt and he doesn't know what happened and where it came from,” Radko said.

Gudas' Law of Motion.

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