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COMMENTARY

Hockey's Macho Nonsense Has Got to Stop ... or Else

March 14, 2004|Mark Herrmann | Newsday

The most telling part of the sorry episode surrounding Todd Bertuzzi's gruesome, devastating attack against Colorado Avalanche player Steve Moore occurred during Bertuzzi's tearful apology Wednesday. Bertuzzi, the hulking Vancouver Canucks forward, said in a public statement to Moore: "I had no intention of hurting you."

That is what the hockey culture has come to. The following does not qualify as an attempt to injure: goading an opponent, blindsiding him with a punch to the head and sending him to the ice face-first.

Bertuzzi wasn't trying to hurt him late in a 9-2 loss Monday. Of course not. He was only trying to teach Moore a lesson for having given Canucks star Markus Naslund a concussion a week-and-a-half earlier. It was his interpretation of hockey's frontier justice, of "sending a message."

Well, here's a message to Bertuzzi and to everyone else in a sport that is barely hanging onto a shred of credibility as it is: You're all out if you don't knock this off.

Enough of the macho nonsense. The heck with the cycle of violence. Give us a break with that eye-for-an-eye business (it doesn't work, and besides, if you really read the scripture from which that comes, you'd find that "getting even" was not the intention).

NHL players always have had an unwritten code for policing each other. Now, more than ever, they have to take matters into their own hands. It's high time that they respect each other as professionals, and as human beings.

It will be up to them to live out the spirit of the statement Thursday by NHL vice president Colin Campbell, who said: "We want to make clear that this type of conduct will not be tolerated in the NHL." Campbell announced that Bertuzzi has an open-ended suspension that starts with the remainder of this regular season and the playoffs.

But NHL executives always say they won't tolerate hideous acts on the ice. Then someone always comes along and commits another one. A one-year ban and criminal prosecution against Marty McSorley -- for knocking Donald Brashear unconscious -- four years ago didn't prevent Moore from laying on the very same Vancouver ice with a broken neck.

Bertuzzi's case struck so many familiar chords it was hard to tell the ironies from the coincidences.

One of those is the fact that when Bertuzzi was a young player with the Islanders, he was chided for not being tough enough. He never lived up to his billing as "the next Clark Gillies" -- a big, strong, tough but clean player.

Also, Bertuzzi was among the most vocal critics of McSorley's cheap shot on Brashear. "Disgusting. Terrible," he said at the time.

Among the most vocal moralists this week has been Avalanche Coach Tony Granato. That is the very same Tony Granato who, as a player for the Kings in 1994, was suspended 15 games for taking a two-handed swing with his stick -- from behind -- to the head of Neil Wilkinson.

It was Granato's good fortune that Wilkinson was able to return to the game that night. Days later, though, NHL vice president Brian Burke called it "the type of action the league must eliminate."

That same Brian Burke is now the general manager of the Canucks, who acquired Brad May, who inflamed the recent situation by having said the Canucks would have a "bounty" on Moore. That was the same May, by the way, who was suspended 20 games in 2000 for clubbing Steve Heinze on the head with a stick, from behind.

Small world, isn't it?

It just goes to show what a world the NHL has become. Intrinsic roughness has turned to callous indifference over the past 10 to 20 years. It is no longer a matter of tough guys dropping their gloves and squaring off (Moore indeed had a fight early in Monday's game, which wasn't enough for Bertuzzi).

Players think nothing of wielding their sticks. Even supposed "clean" hits have become reckless, with an indifference to whatever might happen to the guy getting hit. The Canucks thought Moore was guilty on that score.

Whether he was or he wasn't, we saw that evening the score nearly became utterly tragic. That all has to stop. Nobody wins in a cycle of violence, which is why they call it a "cycle" -- it just keeps going round and round.

Despite all the tough guys in the sport, the really strong players will be the ones who can keep peace.

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