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Canuck Star May Face Assault Case in On-Ice Punch

March 10, 2004|Helene Elliott | Times Staff Writer

Vancouver Canuck forward Todd Bertuzzi faces possible assault charges as well as disciplinary action from the NHL for punching Colorado's Steve Moore from behind Monday and toppling Moore face-first to the ice, where blood quickly pooled around the dazed and battered rookie.

Moore was declared out for the season Tuesday, the same day police in Vancouver began what they called a routine assault investigation. The Avalanche said Moore suffered a fractured vertebra in his neck, a concussion, facial cuts, and bruises on his forehead, right cheek and upper lip.

Authorities "will be responsible for making a decision as to whether or not anyone is charged," Sarah Bloor, a spokeswoman for the Vancouver police, told the Canadian Press.

Bertuzzi, a premier power forward and two-time All-Star who signed a four-year, $27.8-million contract with the Canucks in October, was suspended indefinitely by the NHL without pay. He will be in Toronto today for a hearing before Colin Campbell, the league's director of hockey operations.

The incident created another public relations problem for a league beset by financial woes and labor uncertainty. It also diverted attention from the playoff races and renewed scrutiny of how hockey's physical nature can exceed competitive boundaries.

Playing at Vancouver in February 2000, Marty McSorley of the Boston Bruins struck Canuck enforcer Donald Brashear in the head with his stick and was charged with assault. McSorley was convicted and received an 18-month conditional discharge, plus probation. He was suspended for a year by the NHL but never sought reinstatement; he's coaching the Phoenix Coyotes' affiliate in Springfield, Mass.

Canuck General Manager Brian Burke said Tuesday that Bertuzzi was "quite distraught" and unable to attend a news conference at GM Place.

"Right now he's very upset about what happened," said Burke, who will accompany Bertuzzi to today's hearing. "In terms of the incident, he's remorseful and relieved that Mr. Moore's injuries at this point appear that full recovery should be possible.... My player, Todd Bertuzzi, has my full backing."

The Avalanche held a news conference in Denver, where General Manager Pierre Lacroix said Moore's spirit "under the circumstances, is good."

Lacroix also said Moore would be transferred to a hospital in Denver as soon as it's safe to move him. He declined to comment on a possible criminal investigation. "This is not the way we're going to make people love the sport," Lacroix said.

Moore was targeted by the Canucks because he elbowed Vancouver center Markus Naslund in the head Feb. 16. Naslund suffered a concussion and facial cuts, but Moore wasn't penalized; Naslund later said the hit was legal because he had had his head down. Canuck enforcer Brad May declared a bounty on Moore but subsequently said he had intended that as a joke.

The Avalanche, which leads the Canucks by three points for the Northwest Division lead and a top-three West playoff seed, was on its way to a 9-2 victory when Bertuzzi's temper flared in the third period. After tugging on Moore's jersey several times without goading Moore into a fight, he threw a right-handed punch that caught Moore on the side of the head. Bertuzzi, who is 6 foot 3 and 235 pounds, fell on top of Moore.

Colorado Coach Tony Granato had to be restrained from hurdling the barrier between the teams' benches to get at his Vancouver counterpart, Marc Crawford. "We have too much to offer in our game for something like this," Granato said. "Does it cross the line? Of course it does. Do I think there's any part for this in the game? No."

Said Colorado captain Joe Sakic: "That's not payback. That's going overboard."

Bertuzzi didn't speak to reporters afterward, and the league said he wouldn't comment until after Campbell's ruling. Naslund said Bertuzzi "feels awful about it. He's very sorry. I know that's not much right now."

The NHL in recent years has been vigilant in punishing players who strike opponents in the head.

"I think it'll be a pretty severe punishment," King General Manager Dave Taylor said. "We had an incident similar to that a few years ago, when Matt Johnson punched [Jeff] Beukeboom and he got a pretty stiff suspension for it." Johnson was suspended 12 games for punching Beukeboom from behind in November 1998, a move he claimed was vengeance for Beukeboom's earlier trip of teammate Glen Murray. Beukeboom suffered a concussion and never played another NHL game.

The Canucks have 13 games left in the season.

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Times staff writer Mike Bresnahan contributed to this report.

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