Thursday, December 6, 2007

Testimony Reveals Former Canucks Head Coach's Role in the Todd Bertuzzi-Steve Moore Incident

According to court documents obtained by CBC, locker room statements by former Vancouver Canucks coach Marc Crawford may have played a role in Todd Bertuzzi's on-ice attack of Steve Moore. Since the incident, March 8th, 2004, Moore has been unable to return to professional hockey, and is in the process of suing Bertuzzi and the Vancouver Canucks for $38 million.

Sworn statements made by Bertuzzi, and confirmed by Canucks GM Dave Nonis, allege Crawford pointed to a board with Moore's name and jersey number and said to the team, "He must pay the price."

The Canucks were still upset from an incident in a game against the Avalanche 3 weeks prior that left star forward Markus Naslund concussed. Moore was not penalized, nor suspended for the hit. With 11 minutes remaining in the 9-2 Avalanche blowout Bertuzzi attacked Moore from behind with a sucker punch, and following through, driving his head into the ice. Moore was taken off the ice on a stretcher with 3 fractured neck vertebrae and a severe concussion.

Bertuzzi was suspended by the league for the remainder of the regular season (13 games), the playoffs, and not allowed to play hockey overseas during the lockout. He plead guilty to criminal charges and was sentenced to a years probation and 80 hours community service.

17 months later, prior to the start of the 2005-06 NHL season, Bertuzzi was reinstated into the NHL.

Marc Crawford is not a defendant in the civil lawsuit, but now that the testimony has been reported by CBC it will take only hours before it's picked up by news outlets around the world. Newspapers, TSN, ESPN, SportsCenter, and weblogs. I can see the headline: "Head Coach Orders Bertuzzi Attack". And I can imagine why, it grabs your attention, it's shocking. But is that really what happened? Can we really tie perhaps the most horrific attack in the history of hockey to a statement by a coach.

Surely we can agree, announcing to a team that a particular player "must pay the price" is in incredibly poor taste and even dangerous. Clearly it's an abuse of the position he held. But when drawing the line from Crawford's statements to Bertuzzi's actions, it spans the distance of the Alaskan-Russian Land Bridge. It certainly was not the first time since a player has been targeted by an opposing club. Hockey is an intense sport, full of speed, finesse, skill and, yes, violence. From time to time competitors may lose their composure. Penalties occur, fights take place.

I'm not Don Cherry, I enjoy hockey, and fights are only a small part of this. Contrary to Cherry and his disciples point of view, I don't tune into a game for fights or acts of violence. If I watch a game with scoring opportunities, great play offensively and defensively, I am more than thrilled. I don't yearn to see someone get hurt. However, if the situation calls for a good old fashion throw-down; if per say, a team is down a goal or two and feels the other team is taking liberties with it's star player, and a player feels the need to send a message and inspire his teammates, I enjoy it.

Outside sources who might consider fighting in hockey barbaric would probably be surprised when they actually saw two players earn a five minute major. Sure, sometimes tempers flare, but more often than not, after being separated by an official the two smirk, jaw a little at each other, maybe share a laugh. Fighting in hockey is not about injuring the opposing player.

What Todd Bertuzzi did to Steve Moore on a spring evening 3 and half years ago was about injuring another player.

And I don't say that to complete villanize Bertuzzi. What he did was horrible, yes, but I don't believe it was a premeditated decision. He may have laced up his skates looking to get under his skin or lay a bone-jarring body check, but I do not believe he intended to impart the damage he did to Moore. He was incredibly distraught over what he felt was an attack on his teammate, in an emotional game his team was being blown out 9-2, and in a Meursault-ian state of rage he attacked Moore.

It was frightening act, but unlike Camus's absurd protagonist, Bertuzzi has shown remorse for his actions. He's stepped up to plate, expressed regret, and taken his punishment. And even amidst a situation like this, I can respect him for it. But one thing I will not do is place any blame for the situation on a coach who in an attempt to fire up his team crossed a line. When Crawford wrote Moore's name and number 36 on the board he was attempting to send a signal, he was not attempting to send a young man off the ice for the last time in a stretcher.

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