Broken neck in the NHL

If you haven’t seen Todd Bertuzzi’s attack on Steve Moore during the Avalanche-Canucks game the other night, you’re missing something.

Bertuzzi had been talking for a couple of weeks about how he was going to get even with Moore for a blind-side hit Moore delivered to Bertuzzi’s teammate Markuz Naslund on February 16th. Moore wasn’t penalized for that hit, and the NHL later reviewed it and cleared Moore of wrongdoing. Naslund, who was knocked out and suffered a concussion from the hit, stated clearly that retaliation was not necessary.

Bertuzzi didn’t care.

In the third period of a thrashing at the hands of the Avalanche, Bertuzzi skated up behind Moore, grabbed his sweater, and, when Moore turned to see what was going on, sucker-puched him in the side of the head. Moore immediately collapsed, and the 245-pound Bertuzzi fell on top of him, driving Moore’s head into the ice and pummeling at will. Moore’s teammate Andrei Nikolishin tried to pull Bertuzzi off, but to no avail.

When Bertuzzi was finally pulled away, Moore was lying face down in a puddle of blood, his neck broken. He also suffered a concussion and other injuries. They carried him off on a stretcher, and he remains hospitalized in Vancouver. When he can be moved, he will be transferred to a Denver hospital.

Fortuantely, Moore seems to be doing well. His season is over, of course. It remains to be seen if he plays hockey again. Hell, it remains to be seen if he WALKS again. There seems to be little talk of that nature, so we can only hope that he will recover fully.

“These comments are for Steve. I had no intention of hurting you,” Bertuzzi said Wednesday. “I feel awful for what transpired.”

Well, ‘sorry’ doesn’t do Moore much good, Todd.

Bertuzzi has been suspended for the remainder of the season and playoffs, and will have to apply to be reinstated next season. He stands to lose more than $500,000 in lost wages. The Canucks have also been fined $250,000 for the actions of its player.

I think this penalty, assuming Moore recovers, is fair. Although Bertuzzi obviously was out to injure Moore, I doubt that he intentionally broke his neck. Hockey is a physical game, and paybacks are part of the sport as it’s played today. I wouldn’t have had problems if the suspension was longer, but I find this acceptable.

If Moore is through as a hockey player, though, I expect the NHL to reject Bertuzzi’s request to return next season. If Moore cannot walk or has lasting effects from the attack, I expect the NHL to ban Bertuzzi for life.

Anything less will be a signal that relative slaps on the hand will be in store for anyone who dares endanger another player’s life. Anything less will be a slap in the face to Steve Moore and his family.

Barry Melrose on ESPN writes

This situation isn’t necessarily a black eye for hockey, though, because anyone who doesn’t like the physical nature of the sport is going to bash it anyway. It’s amazing that Major League Baseball cannot get its players to submit to drug testing and has pitchers who throw at guy’s heads, yet people zero in on one unfortunate incident in hockey and point to it as an example of what’s wrong with the game.

So far, so good. But

Those who know hockey understand that a line was crossed and that what Bertuzzi did is should never be part of the game. They are likely the same group that will use this as another argument for abolishing the instigator rule — which gives an extra minor penalty to the player who starts a fight — and letting the players police themselves by exacting retribution before situations like this arise.

I’m confused how players policing themselves by exacting retribution will keep situations like this (retribution exacted) from arising. Melrose goes on to explain how European-rules hockey, which bans all fighting, is

the dirtiest in the world. Players over there engage in all kinds of stickwork — slashing, spearing, high-sticking — and the physical play involves kicking and the like. There is no accountability or retribution, so a dirty player can run rampant all game long without having to face justice.

Sounds like the UN is officiating European-rules hockey, but I digress.

I don’t really know what the rules in Europe are. Do they state that the slashing, spearing, high-sticking, and kicking are illegal? If so, penalize the offenders. If two-minute minors don’t do the trick, majors, suspensions, and fines will get the attention of the hardest cases. If these fail, bar the player.

Is it really that difficult? Melrose talks as if fighting is just a part of hockey. Maybe it is, but if so, it’s because the league allows it to be. Do we need more officials? Get more officials. The hooking and obstruction in the game today are a shame. Someone said to me that the hooking and obstruction are the only way the lesser teams can keep up with the stronger teams. As if that makes cheating okay. “They’re better than us, so we level the playing field by playing outside the rules.”? That’s a total cop-out.

If something is illegal, punish the offenders. If there’s too much going on for the current officiating crew to keep track of, fix that problem.

How many fights are there in the NFL? I understand that ice hockey doesn’t stop play every few seconds like football does. But in hockey, physical play like checking and shoving are a part of the game. In football, it IS the game. Why don’t NFL players break out into brawls? It almost never happens.

Don’t tell me that the fighting and cheating in the NHL cannot be stopped. This sport is a game and an entertainment. Incidents like this will hurt public opinion, never mind the bodies of the men the public wants to watch compete.

It has to stop.

The UN might not authorize peacekeepers in European hockey, but maybe we can send a few Marines to get the NHL under control.