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Inside the NHL | Helene Elliott / ON THE NHL

Only Victim Is Guy in Hospital

March 16, 2004|Helene Elliott

Brian Burke insists Todd Bertuzzi is a victim of ignorant and biased media reports.

Burke, the Vancouver Canuck general manager, also insists Bertuzzi and Coach Marc Crawford are victims of hasty and short-sighted justice.

Canuck fans say they're victims of a league "that doesn't want us to have the Cup," Lisa Mayea of Ladysmith, Canada, told the Canadian Press during a pro-Bertuzzi demonstration in Vancouver.

Even CBC broadcaster Don Cherry claimed he has been victimized by the Bertuzzi incident.

The only person who hasn't courted public opinion is the only true victim here -- Steve Moore, who was moved to Craig Hospital in Englewood, Colo., on Saturday to continue his recovery from two fractured vertebrae, a concussion and facial cuts and bruises.

No one will accept responsibility for the results of Bertuzzi's sucker punch to the head of Moore eight days ago, which sent the Colorado rookie crashing to the ice face-first. Bertuzzi piled on him and would have punched Moore again if Colorado's Andrei Nikolishin hadn't thrown himself atop them.

Burke claimed in a news conference last week that the pileup was the most likely cause of Moore's injuries. He also questioned whether Moore was injured badly enough to miss the rest of the season, as the Avalanche has said.

Amazing, isn't it, that while Burke performed his duties with the Canucks he also found time to attend medical school and become qualified to make that diagnosis. It's great too that he can predict when players will recover from concussions. Ask the Kings about the foolishness of putting a timetable on that.

Bertuzzi is an "outstanding person ... despite a few seconds on the ice during which you might think he acted inappropriately," said Burke, formerly the NHL's chief disciplinarian. He added that "a doctor was quoted here" as saying it was impossible to ascertain when the neck injury occurred. Perhaps, but if Bertuzzi hadn't punched Moore in the first place, Moore wouldn't have suffered any injury.

Burke also said a Canuck team doctor estimated Moore might recover in four to six weeks. That doctor, of course, examined Moore or saw the player's X-rays. Oh, he didn't? A minor detail for the righteously indignant.

Kent Gilchrist, a columnist for the Vancouver Province, said the person to blame was Avalanche Coach Tony Granato. Gilchrist's tortured reasoning: Moore had already done his duty by fighting Matt Cooke in the first period, so Granato should have kept Moore out of the game in the late stages in anticipation the Canucks might try something.

"Granato had to know that continuing to play Moore as the Avs' lead increased could only exacerbate the situation," Gilchrist wrote. "Isn't part of a coach's job in the NHL to try and protect his player? Apparently not.... If the target of their frustration had been removed, there would have been no issue."

And what of Crawford's duty to protect the Canucks? He apparently didn't urge Bertuzzi to remain calm. And why did Crawford continue to play Bertuzzi -- who averages 21 minutes a game -- with eight minutes left in what became a 9-2 loss, and with the Canucks facing three games in the next five nights?

No one comes out of this looking good. Least of all the NHL, which last week got the kind of mainstream exposure it has always wanted, but for all the wrong reasons.

From ABC to CNN, from Fox to Katie Couric and Matt Lauer tsk-tsking on NBC's "Today" show, hockey took its lumps. Cherry, the outspoken CBC commentator, said Saturday that critics have "an agenda to get hockey, get [NHL Commissioner Gary] Bettman, get me, get hockey people. The media doesn't care about Moore one bit."

Cherry had been accused the previous week by the Canada Safety Council of condoning fighting and violence in hockey. He said of Bertuzzi's punch, "If you have a beef with somebody, and you want to do something, it's face to face. Face to face. You settle it that way. You don't sucker punch, ever, from behind. Do it face to face. That's the Canadian way."

Warms your heart, doesn't it?

Bertuzzi should have been suspended for a year. Leaving it at the rest of the season and the playoffs and requiring him to apply to Bettman for reinstatement means he might miss as few as 17 games, the last 13 of the season and four playoff games. And although playoff games are more important and produce more revenue, that would not be punishment enough.

Bertuzzi undoubtedly was sincere when he apologized to Moore last week, though his claim he wasn't trying to hurt Moore rings hollow. Blindside punching isn't an accepted way of showing affection. Bertuzzi was trying to inflict some kind of damage, though not as much as what resulted.

The key point is there are consequences to every action. It doesn't matter if Bertuzzi didn't mean to cause havoc and hurt Moore. He did. He's not a victim. The victims are Moore, the game of hockey and the truth.

Fighting Against Fighting

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