Something I saw but failed to post on while out of town at the end of last week is the charging of Vancouver Canucks forward Todd Bertuzzi with assault causing bodily harm by British Columbia’s ministry of the attorney general.
You may recall that Bertuzzi attacked Colorado Avalanche forward Steve Moore from behind in a game last March. MO posted about it here, here, and here. Plus MO noted an ACE connection between the situation and Iraq here.
If found guilty, Bertuzzi could face up to ten years in prison.
But in a similar case, former Boston Bruins defenseman Marty McSorley was given a conditional 18-month discharge and served no jail time despite being convicted of assaulting former Canucks forward Donald Brashear in Vancouver during a February 2000 game.
Bertuzzi was suspended by the NHL for the remainder of the regular season and for the playoffs, costing the team any hope it had of a Stanley Cup and costing Bertuzzi more than $500,000 in lost salary. The suspension was indefinite, meaning that Bertuzzi must apply to be reinstated.
Moore, though recovering, continues to suffer from the attack and his return to hockey is in question. I thought in March that Bertuzzi’s suspension should be tied to Moore’s recovery, and that appears to be what the league is considering.
As for legal action against Bertuzzi, I’m a little hesitant to applaud it. Bertuzzi’s actions were clearly beyond the pale, and I’m open to the idea that he crossed the line from bad judgment in a hockey game over to criminal action in the real world. But I’m not sure. Terry Frei, who writes for the Denver Post and for ESPN, has a good colum up about this and writes
Courts, both in Canada and the U.S., have more important issues to deal with than incidents in professional sports, in which reasonable folks grasp that an implied consent is involved. If you play the game for a living, you agree the sport involves peril and that the league ideally can handle its issues in-house. If the legal system too often jumps into the games, the potential for abuse – from grandstanding U.S. district attorneys, for example – is obvious.
Frei goes on to note that Bertuzzi’s actions were clearly premeditated and that he, the team, and the league need to wake up to the fact that ice hockey has a violence problem.
The game, and not just Bertuzzi, again will be on trial if the case is tried. The NHL must do more than react after the fact to over-the-top absurdities, such as Bertuzzi’s attack on Moore and Marty McSorley’s swing at Donald Brashear. Those incidents can’t be waved off as unacceptable excesses that went beyond “the code.” They are unintended but predictable outgrowths of the game’s mind-set.
The NHL must more forcefully attack the traditions that help make over-the-top incidents inevitable. The NHL and its proponents lamely whining “We can handle this” carries no weight.
Ice hockey should be one of the most popular spectator sports available on this continent. But it isn’t. Why does ice hockey, with so many good guys and such exciting, non-stop action (even with all the hooking and obstruction) rate so low? Although everyone likes to joke that they only watch hockey “for the fights”, we need these gladiators to play fair. If we want to see over-the-top violence on the stage, we’ll tune in to professional wrestling. At least those guys don’t wear pads and helmets.
The Avalanche are staying out of the legal brouhaha, releasing a simple statement in response to Bertuzzi’s charging:
“At this time, it is our intention to cooperate with the authorities should members of our organization be called upon to do so,” said Colorado Avalanche President and General Manager Pierre Lacroix.
“A member of our organization was directly involved, and our main concern remains for him to fully recover from this unfortunate incident.”
The Colorado Avalanche will have no further comment regarding this matter.
And just to show that they have no hard feelings, the Avs drafted 6-foot-3, 200-pound left wing Wojtek Wolski 21st overall in the NHL draft last Saturday. Wolski was charged with assault three weeks ago after a fight which landed a guy, Scott Ackley, in the hospital.
According to The Toronto Sun, Ackley’s father, Mark, said his son was sucker-punched by Wolski during a house party after Ackley asked Wolski to leave on behalf of the party’s host. Police reports said Ackley was then beaten unconscious by several other people.
No word on what positions the “several other people” play or if they were drafted by NHL teams.
Wolski’s lawyer, John Rosen, told the Sun that was not what happened.
“He was merely coming to the assistance of his girlfriend, who was pushed off a porch,” Rosen said. “My client is treating this matter very seriously even though he has done nothing wrong. He is concerned about the impact (on his hockey career), because somebody might take this out of context.”
Apparently, he doesn’t need to worry about that. Later in the story it’s noted that the one knock against Wolski was his “lack of aggression”.
If anything, the assault charge may have helped his draft position a bit.