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Gudas' impact on Flyers surpasses his 'goon' rep

For the first time this season, a huge crowd of reporters gathered around Radko Gudas' locker Thursday, waiting for the Flyers' rugged defenseman to leave the ice after practice.

For the first time this season, a huge crowd of reporters gathered around Radko Gudas' locker Thursday, waiting for the Flyers' rugged defenseman to leave the ice after practice.

"You guys waiting for Ogie Ogilthorpe?" cracked Flyers forward Ryan White.

Ogilthorpe was a goon in the iconic 1970 movie Slapshot.

Gudas, 25, drew a crowd because the NHL suspended him for, well, a goon-like play, a hit to the head of Ottawa's Mika Zibanejad during Tuesday's third period.

"It's a fast game," Gudas said. "Accidents happen."

For all his feistiness, Gudas has had more good moments than Ogie ones this season.

Fact is, he has been one of the Flyers' most pleasant surprises.

"Gudie is a guy who drags guys into the fight, that's one way to put it," coach Dave Hakstol said, meaning his 6-foot, 204-pound defenseman inspires his teammates to play with an edge. "He's always very competitive. He's a heavy, physical body back there, and I think he's been a significant part of our D corps."

When he was acquired with first- and third-round picks in the deal that sent Braydon Coburn to Tampa Bay in March, some thought Gudas was a throw-in who would be the Flyers' seventh defenseman this year.

He has been more. Much more.

Built like a fire hydrant, Gudas has kept opponents on their toes with his physical play. He can be described thusly: Old. Time. Hockey.

At the time of his suspension, Gudas' 118 hits placed him second in the NHL, and he has been a defensively responsible player.

"He's played very well for us," captain Claude Giroux said. "He moves the puck very well, and obviously his physical play is very good."

The Czech Republic native is a throwback-type player who, when he plays smartly, can be an asset and cause opponents to look over their shoulders.

The suspension, Gudas said, will not cause him to alter his style.

"I don't think I should change anything," he said. "I've played for a while and haven't gotten any suspensions. This is the first one."

Gudas, who did not play with the Flyers last season because he was recovering from knee surgery, had been paired recently with Michael Del Zotto, one of the team's best puck-moving defensemen.

"We were getting some good chemistry," Del Zotto said. "We talk a lot on the ice, and playing together a bunch of games and practicing, you get to know each others' tendencies and it makes it that much easier. You see how hard he plays out there and he brings an element to the game - and it's not fun for the other team to play against."

Gudas will sit out the third game of his suspension Tuesday against the Islanders, then be eligible to return Thursday in St. Louis.

"Unfortunately, suspensions are part of the game. It happens," goalie Steve Mason said. "I think Radko was definitely starting to come around with his game. I look at the game against the Rangers in New York - I thought that was probably one of his best efforts all around."

The Flyers won that game, 3-0.

"He made a couple of huge plays on two-on-ones, and had a couple of real good sticks preventing some key opportunities," Mason said. "He brings a physical presence that is hard to match because of how strong and aggressive he can be."

Gudas is not known for his offense. He has one assist in 22 games this season, and seven goals and 33 points in 148 career games.

And yet . . .

"He has the hardest shot I've faced in a long, long time," Mason said. "It's to the point where I think he's taken a little bit of power off of it in practice" so he doesn't injure his own goalies. "You get a glove on it and he can break your hand."

Gudas did break the finger of Ottawa's Milan Michalek with a shot in the Flyers' 4-2 win Tuesday. Later in that game, Gudas delivered what turned out to be a suspendable hit on Zibanejad.

From here, Gudas' suspension was justified. But the NHL erred when it did not suspend Boston's Zac Rinaldo - who has a long history of being disciplined - when his head hit gave Sean Couturier a concussion in October, causing the Flyers center to miss six games.

"I won't get into the technicalities of it," said Hakstol, adding he disagreed but respected the league's decision to suspend Gudas, "because I'm learning a lot as I go."