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Warning: Return excites Dwyer

His 23-game suspension is over. He has worked hard to stay in shape. And the Lightning needs his toughness - applied correctly.

By DAMIAN CRISTODERO

© St. Petersburg Times, published November 27, 2000


UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- In the matter of Gordie Dwyer's return to the Lightning lineup after a 23-game suspension, the following description may be helpful.

When the left wing takes his first shift tonight against the Islanders at Nassau Coliseum, he is expected to burst through the bench door like a bull from the gate at a rodeo.

He will morph into the Tasmanian Devil and make his way across the ice like a whirlwind, hitting everything in a New York uniform.

Too much?

Then consider how Dan Cloutier described Dwyer's emotions. The Lightning goaltender gritted his teeth and growled like a lion. Or was that a tiger? Or was that like Dwyer?

"I'm going to go out and skate hard, for sure," Dwyer said Sunday. "I'm just excited to come back. I've worked hard the last while to make sure I'm in good shape."

"He's been talking about this for quite a while," center Vinny Lecavalier. "He's really excited."

Dwyer, a 6-foot-3, 216-pound bundle of energy and body checks, practiced with the team while serving his punishment, which at the time tied the longest in NHL history for an on-ice altercation. (It has been surpassed by the one-year suspension given Marty McSorley for his slash at Donald Brashear's head.) Dwyer also lost $39,510.66 in game-day salary.

The incident occurred during a Sept. 19 preseason game against the Capitals at the Ice Palace. Dwyer left the penalty box to get at Washington's Joe Reekie, with whom he had scuffled. In the madness that followed, Dwyer bumped linesman David Brisebois and dragged referee Mark Faucette to the ground.

Dwyer said he doesn't remember what set him off.

"I don't know. I just lost my temper," he said. "I got excited. For sure, I wasn't thinking about the consequences and didn't understand the consequences, either. But I was real excited and happy to play and got frustrated a little bit in the situation and got carried away."

In a size 23-game straitjacket. Dwyer is no stranger to the penalty box. In 24 games last season he earned 135 penalty minutes. Extrapolated over an 82-game schedule, that's 461 minutes, 11 shy of Dave Schultz's season record. Channeled correctly, that kind of aggression can be a boost for the Lightning, which has been, to put it mildly, inconsistent in the application of the body.

Lost in the legend of the penalty box incident is that Dwyer earlier in that game checked Washington's Mike Farrell so hard into the boards, a pane of glass shattered.

"He brings a lot of toughness," Lecavalier said. "He hits when it's time to hit, and for sure, he intimidates a lot of the players on the other team."

"We expect that from the moment he comes back he will lead the team in contacts," general manager Rick Dudley said. "That energy will help the rest of the guys. It does rub off on players."

How highly does the Lightning think of Dwyer?

It could have sent him to the IHL's Detroit Vipers after the suspension. That might have made financial sense; Dwyer has a two-way contract, meaning he gets paid less if he plays in the minors.

But the Lightning wanted to get the suspension over with as quickly as possible, so it let Dwyer stay. In return, Dudley expected Dwyer to use his practice time wisely.

"To be honest, he'll be a better player for it," Dudley said.

"I worked hard," Dwyer said. "I'm just fortunate I had the opportunity to be here."

He is very tired, though, of watching games from the press box.

"You want to be out there," Dwyer said. "Hockey is exciting. It's not exciting if you're sitting and watching."

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