He plays the game as if he’s preparing to be attacked in a dark, damp alley, but once you get Radko Gudas away from the rink, the guy teammates call “Gudy” is good for a few laughs. He may have the most easygoing personality on the Flyers outside of Michael Raffl, and over the past three weeks, Gudas has been counted on for a little comic relief.
“I try and help the guys out as much as I can,” Gudas said recently. “Try to make guys laugh every once in awhile. We’ve had a pretty tough stretch. Everything’s not going our way so I’m trying to find anything that will help the guys get in better spirits.”
That may have been Gudas’ toughest job of all throughout the Flyers' 10-game winless streak. Now he resumes his role of team tough guy after serving a 10-game suspension — the longest of his six-year career — for his nasty slash to the back of Mathieu Perreault’s neck in Winnipeg.
Unlike the NFL — where suspended players can’t be anywhere near the team or their workout facilities — Gudas has been skating and practicing as if he was preparing to play.
When the Flyers return to the practice rink Sunday, Gudas will be reinstated and eligible for the Tuesday's game against the Toronto Maple Leafs, the opener of a five-game homestand.
“I’m looking forward to it — playing the next home game against Toronto — so I’ve got that date circled on my calendar. I’m looking forward to helping the boys out,” Gudas said. “Family kept me together. I think they helped me out a lot through this. Just giving me encouragement, being there for me.”
“We’ve missed him, for sure,” general manager Ron Hextall said. “I think it’s not an excuse. You've got him, you've got [Andrew MacDonald] out, it’s that veteran presence. Not only on the ice, but off the ice, and guys go back to the bench. The young guys were reeling a little bit here. Guys get their heads back on track with the veteran influence. It’s important. Of course, we miss Gudy.”
As strange as it may sound, Gudas provides a calming presence to some of the rookies. The question moving forward is who plays that role with Gudas when tensions start to run high? Two seasons ago, management met with Gudas after his overaggressive play was starting to become a detriment to the team.
Coming into Thursday’s game against the Canucks, Gudas was tied with Jakub Voracek and Wayne Simmonds on the Flyers with 12 individual penalties taken. But if you measure that number by minutes played, Gudas leads the team by a long stretch, with one penalty for every 21.9 minutes he’s on the ice, including two major penalties.
“Radko hits hard. He hits as hard as anybody in the league,” Hextall said after Gudas received a major for boarding earlier this season in Ottawa. “His hits are impact hits.”
Gudas is also quickly learning the NHL hits back, and hitting Gudas where it hurts. As a result of his past two suspensions, Gudas has missed 16 games and has forfeited over $650,000. For a league looking to rid itself of its wild-west mentality pertaining to illegal hits to the head, there’s now a "Wanted" poster of Gudas nailed somewhere in its New York headquarters. However, the Flyers' defenseman believes he has a better understanding moving forward following a meeting with George Parros, head of the NHL’s Department of Player Safety.
“I think it was pretty good to meet with each other,” Gudas said. “I found out what they want from me and what they would like to see differently in case anything like this happens. I got good feedback from him and I’m looking forward to adapting to these things and trying to be as best as I can for my team.”
Can the Flyers maintain their disciplined ways with Gudas returning to the lineup? In their recent three-game road trip, the Flyers stayed out of the box, killing off just two power plays in each of those three wins. Now comes Gudas with his own bull's-eye that opponents will be targeting, goading him to step over the line just one more time.
“He’s done a really good job over the last year,” head coach Dave Hakstol said. “I don’t think it will be something that will be in the back of his mind. I think it’s something he’s looked at, he’s evaluated. You have to take it and evaluate it for what it is, try and learn a little bit from it. You've got to park it and move forward, and that’s what he’ll do.”