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.


  1. Melrose’s view on European hockey seems more like a bad stereotype than reality.I’m not a big hockey expert,but I’d say we’ve had a slightly more lenient line towards non-dangerous offenses like holding and obstruction here in Europe than in North America.On the other had,we’ve had a tougher line towards violent offenses (and fighting) than NHL,in general. The claim that a ‘dirty player can run rampant all game long’ is rubbish,though.

  2. I think this penalty, assuming Moore recovers, is fair.’ The punishment should be based primarily on Bertuzzi’s actions, not the luck of the draw regarding Moore’s recovery. When someone intentionally fires a loaded weapon at someone’s head, hits them, but the victim miraculously survives, we don’t charge the offender with unlawful discharge of a firearm. We charge them with attempted murder.

  3. When someone intentionally fires a loaded weapon at someone’s head, hits them, but the victim miraculously survives, we don’t charge the offender with unlawful discharge of a firearm. We charge them with attempted murder.’ Yes, but if the victim dies it’s murder, not attempted murder. If Bertuzzi had done the same thing except missed while attempting to punch Moore, this would definitely be a different scenario. If he DID connect on the punch, but didn’t hurt Moore at all, this is a different scenario. If he did hurt Moore, but didn’t break his neck, this is a different scenario. If he did break Moore’s neck and Moore died as a result of the injury, this is a still different scenario. The action (in and of itself) is part of the equation, as is the intent, but the results of the action must be considered. That’s why I think the NHL needs to wait and see exactly what Bertuzzi’s ‘crime’ is.

  4. I agree, but you have to weigh what the attempt was for. The sucker punch was bad enough. That alone should result in him getting booted for the season. His intent was not just to punch him. It was to drive his face into the ice and then pummel him AFTER he had sustained whatever injuries Bertuzzi was successful in inflicting the face to ice blow. There was CLEARLY visible intent to do ‘neck-break’ level damage. No one could do what he did and then be surprised that a neck was broken. If Bertuzzi would have preferred Moore’s arms to come up and protect his face on the way to the ice, he wouldn’t have sucker punched him. Incapacitating his ability to defend himself from Bertuzzi or the ice was the whole REASON for the punch. Otherwise, he would have just driven him down BEFORE he started punching. I mean, he KEPT HITTING HIM! If he’s smart enough to lace up a pair of skates, he’s smart enough to know that what he was doing could severely wound, cripple, or even kill Moore. In fact, severely wounding was the LEAST that could have happened to Moore, and Bertuzzi knew that. I give this guy about as much credit as someone who ‘accidentally’stabbed someone 3 times, and only stopped because he was pulled off before he could stab him 3 more times. Seriously, HE KEPT HITTING HIM. I have other feelings on how the NHL should handle violence in the league, and also on how they should be held responsible for the violence in the league, but it’s not relevant to what should happen to Bertuzzi.

  5. Although I agree that the sucker punch alone SHOULD have got Bertuzzi booted for the season, that would not be in line with NHL standards as they exist today. And although I think it’s clear that Bertuzzi intended to hurt Moore (which is why I refer to it as an ‘attack’ in my post) I truly doubt he intended to inflict ‘break-neck’ level damage. Sure, he meant to inflict bodily harm, and in the heat of the moment he acted in a way to injure very seriously. But I have trouble believing that it was his true intent to do so. Only Bertuzzi, if anyone, knows that for sure, though. As for keeping hitting after Moore went down, that again isn’t far out of line in the NHL. Often, guys under attack will go turtle and simply endure their punishment. Especially against big guys like Bertuzzi or when caught unprepared. It’s entirely possible that Bertuzzi thought that’s what Moore was doing. Please note that I’m not apologizing for Bertuzzi’s actions at all. I do cut him some slack, however, because the NHL insists on letting this sort of thing continue. His actions, while unacceptable, are not unusual. The broken neck, of course, is unusual, but the sucker-punching and retribution are a matter of life in professional ice hockey. That’s why I think the NHL’s policies are central to what happens to Bertuzzi.

  6. You people have not got a clue what the hell you are talking about. Try WATCHING a hockey game sometime. You will see that this is not all that uncommon. Yes, Todd Bertuzzi was wrong in his actions. But that is what happens when the pressure is on, as it was in this game, and emotions are high. I defy any one of you sanctimonious prigs to honestly say that you have never made a wrong decision in your life. If you haven’t yet, YOU WILL! That is a part of life. We live with our choices, good or bad. Ask Granato (Head coach of the Avs) He knows all about ‘Bad choices’. He was handed a FIFTEEN game suspension for his actions as a player on the ice when he was involved in an altercation. The game is called HOCKEY. It is not a ‘nice’ game. You don’t go for the warm fuzzies people. I’d still like to hear Steve’s side of the story. Why is he being kept away from the media? He is obviously awake and able to communicate, yet nothing has been said by him. Nor is his condition being released other than the initial statement made by Vancouver General the day following the incident. Why is this? What really irks me about all this is I don’t really care for Todd Bertuzzi. But I find myself being forced to defend him in this matter. He made a poor choice. That is all. This was not attempted murder. He did not continue to pound on Steve as you all seem to think he did. He did not slam his head to the ice. He is very distraught. And you all should be ashamed of yourselves for your words and actions towards him. Oh, by the way…It isn’t like a Canadian beat up on an American the way most of you seem to think. Todd is Canadian, Steve is Canadian, it happened in Canada, and oh yeah, the Avalance IS a Canadian team (nee Nordiques), it is just housed in Colorado.

  7. But that is what happens when the pressure is on*, as it was in this game, and emotions are high. I defy any one of you sanctimonious prigs to honestly say that you have never made a wrong decision in your life.’ A wrong decision like that? Absolutely I never have! I don’t know a single person who decided to ride someone elses face into a hard surface, only after sucker punching him to make sure he couldn’t protect his head and neck, or anything else even remotely as wrecklessly hateful. How many people do you know that make ‘wrong decisions’ that when *LUCKY* only result in a broken neck? *Not that I keep up, but I thought the game was 8 to 2 or something. How much *less* pressure could there be???

  8. Fuck give him criminal charges he deserves it fuckin stocker…! he like attackered him from the back wut the hell kinda thing is that to do hes a stupid pussy!!!!

  9. Steve Moore is a pussy, he’s never going to get $15 million from Bertuzzi because he consented to the risk of the sport by playing. If he knew or ‘feared’ an assault from Bertuzzi he had the choice not to play.

  10. I couldn’t agree more with the last statement. I HATE Steve ‘whine and sue some’ Moore. What a total puss. in old time hockey, nobody was running around whining and suing. You just had players police the ice. Too bad we have this loser Moore trying to sue Bertuzzi in every state the Avol lady sells make-up in….Moore is the biggest puss to ever lace up skates..