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Lightning's Gudas a hip-check expert

BRANDON — For those watching from the stands, a Radko Gudas hip check can be something to see.

In one motion, Gudas bends at the waist and throws his hip into an opponent who, if Gudas catches him just right, flips over the Lightning defenseman, feet in the air.

"It looks good from the (ice), too," Gudas said Saturday at the Ice Sports Forum without trying to hide a smile. "It's always fun if you knock somebody down but especially by a hip check. It gets the team going and gets the fans into the game a little bit more."

Gudas, 22, has been making a thumping name for himself since his callup from AHL Syracuse and his NHL debut March 12.

His 76 hits are fourth on the team and fourth among the league's rookie defensemen. And it took him just 19 games to get there, 22 fewer than defenseman Keith Aulie, who has a team-most 84.

It is the hip check, though, that is the old-school attention-getter.

You don't see it much anymore, for a few reasons. First, given the speed of the game and the timing the check requires, it's tough to do. Second, it is an all-or-nothing play. Miss the check and, as coach Jon Cooper explained, "It's an odd-man rush coming back."

But as Aulie said of Gudas, with whom he also played at AHL Norfolk, "He has the skating ability, he's got the quickness, and he's got the nerve to throw it at key opportunities."

Gudas, 6 feet, 204 pounds, from the Czech Republic, said he can't remember a time he did not use hip checks, ingrained in him by watching his father, Leo, who played 15 professional seasons in Europe.

"He was pretty good at it, and I really liked it," Gudas said. "It's not something I'm looking to do all the time. It's just a play I know and use at the appropriate time."

The best time, Gudas said, is when an opponent is along the boards, which limits that player's ability to avoid the hit.

"He's pretty good," teammate Matt Carle said, "at running guys over."

Sometimes, though, stuff happens. In October, playing for Syracuse, Gudas hip-checked Rochester's Corey Tropp, who sustained a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee and required surgery.

No penalty was called or league discipline applied, and a media account called the hit clean.

"(Gudas) plays the game hard," Cooper said. "He plays the game the way it's supposed to be played, and you can't have enough of those guys."

Cooper should know. He has coached Gudas since 2010 at Norfolk, at Syracuse and with Tampa Bay.

"What he does — and he's really effective — is he goes into a situation where everybody is going to know who he is on the ice," Cooper said. "When you have that presence on the ice, it can be an effective tool for you."

"Everybody pretty much knows about me now," Gudas said. "It's good they're looking to see if you're on the ice."

And looking out for his hip check.

LINDBACK READY: Goaltender Anders Lindback, out 13 games with a high ankle sprain, is expected to play tonight against the Hurricanes at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.

"He was pretty fired up (at Saturday's practice)," Cooper said. "It should be good."

Damian Cristodero can be reached at cristodero@tampabay.com.

Lightning's Gudas a hip-check expert 04/20/13 [Last modified: Saturday, April 20, 2013 10:17pm]
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