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It took about 15 replays of The Hit for me to distill all my emotions into one question:
Did Todd Bertuzzi, the person, think at all about Steve Moore, the person, before he almost killed him?
That is a great unknown in this depressing state of affairs that has left Moore in the spinal unit of a Vancouver hospital and Bertuzzi facing disciplinary action by the NHL and potential criminal charges in British Columbia.
We don’t have to ask what Bertuzzi, the hockey player, was thinking about Moore, the hockey player, at 8:41 of the third period Monday night. We know that already.
Moore, the former Harvard captain and current Colorado Avalanche forward, knocked out Bertuzzi’s teammate, star Markus Naslund, with a perfectly legal, open-ice hit last month.
The Canucks vowed revenge, though Naslund missed only three games and the NHL chose not to fine Moore. Bertuzzi said there “absolutely” would be retaliation against Moore. “Games will come, and situations will present itself,” were his nauseatingly ominous words in the Rocky Mountain News.
If this was any other profession, such statements might be grounds for a restraining order. But this is the NHL. Gary Bettman doesn’t process PPOs. So, Moore was forced to listen to that and know that someone was going to chase him down.
And off Bertuzzi went Monday night, shadowing Moore, stride-for-stride, before sucker-punching him from behind and shoving his face into the ice so violently as to fracture his neck, give him a concussion and cut his face in several places. A pool of blood formed about him on the ice. Moore was unconscious for a time and had to be taken off on a stretcher.
Objectively speaking, it was one of the most disgusting displays of gutless behavior I’ve seen. Ever.
Contrary to what Bertuzzi’s actions suggested, this was not the life of some EA Sports character that he was taking into his hands. This was not Virtual Steve Moore. This was a real person—a living, breathing, intelligent human being, with family and friends. This was a man who, along with brothers Mark ’00 and Dominic ’03, was part of one of college hockey’s feel-good stories of the 1999-2000 season, when all three skated together on the same Harvard team.
This was Steven F. Moore ’01—a human being, who in this case wasn’t treated like one.
It is so, so hard to stick on an NHL roster, but after two years of playing mostly in the minors, Moore had finally done it and was earning rave reviews.
Now his neck is broken. He’s done for the season. Maybe forever.
What was Bertuzzi, the person, thinking?
CREDIBILITY DOWN THE TUBES
The way this all happened was 99 parts cheap, brutal, and criminal—and one part ironic.
Everyone who follows hockey knows what this was about from the start. The Canucks saw Moore as an unknown rookie who took out their top scorer and, in a tacit citation of the NHL’s practice of governance-by-sword, thought he deserved to pay.
It could’ve ended when Moore fought Vancouver’s Matt Cooke 6:36 into Monday’s game. But Bertuzzi didn’t think that was enough.
So Bertuzzi—who outweighs Moore by 35 pounds and is known as one of the league’s tougher forwards—took matters into his own hands…by fighting Moore from behind…with a sucker-punch.
The words “inexplicable cowardice” come to mind.
What he did redefines the term “cheap shot.” He could’ve killed the man. There was nothing “cheap” about that.
There is a fine line between making a statement on the ice and endangering someone’s career and life. Bertuzzi not only crossed that line, he doesn’t appear to know it exists.
And oh, about the irony: Canucks coach Marc Crawford argued against Moore’s hit on Naslund on the grounds that it came against a star player. He told the Denver Post that the league has a “responsibility to promote the game” by protecting its big names and said the league’s “credibility goes all down the tubes” when hits such as that go unpunished.
Let’s pause for a moment to consider what Bertuzzi did to the league’s “credibility.”
This hit has instantly become national news. Countless replays have been shown on ESPN. Passionate hockey fans across the United States are out of words when asked to defend their sport’s violent nature.
Sure, the NHL should take care of its stars. That’s a valid concern. But there’s no reason that protecting top players involves the endangerment of another man’s life and livelihood, which is what took place Monday night.
This has become one of the biggest hockey stories of the yer, alongside the fact that the NHL is slipping toward financial ruin.
Talk about credibility going down the tubes. And we wonder why ledgers around the league are drowning in red ink.
FITTING THE CRIME
Sometimes, we watch hockey as if it’s a video game. We cheer every vicious check. We like big hits. When someone gets blindsided at center ice, we slap our buddy on the arm and say, “Ho-ho! Did you see that?!”
We may be invested in the games emotionally, but in most cases, we don’t know NHL players on a personal level. We forget that they have lives away from the rink. We forget that they have families and friends. We might even forget that they are people, not just No. 21, that winger from Alberta.
When we forget those things, nothing bad really happens. But when Todd Bertuzzi forgets those things, he can end someone’s career—maybe their life.
Luckily, Steve Moore is not dead. It also appears that he is not paralyzed. These are small bits of good news, but they don’t make us feel any better about the situation itself.
It doesn’t change the fact that Moore is sitting in the spinal unit of a hospital right now, with a brace around his neck and an uncertain future in front of him.
Some may say Bertuzzi deserves sympathy. They may say Bertuzzi didn’t mean to injure Moore. They may say that he is a decent man who made a mistake. And that may be true.
But there are plenty of decent men who make mistakes that hurt others. Some of them are in jail. Maybe that’s where Bertuzzi should be, too.
After all, if I threatened someone through the press, then ran up behind him in Harvard Square three weeks later, punched him in the face and broke his neck—all on national television—I’d probably be in jail. Why should Bertuzzi be different?
Bertuzzi is, in fact, facing his own sort of retaliation. But he’s not being threatened with sticks and fists. Instead, he’s got men wearing suits and uniforms looking at what he did. Men from the NHL offices. Men from the Vancouver Police Department.
At the very least, they should end Bertuzzi’s season. We’ll learn today if that’s the case.
But no matter what is ultimately decided, we know Bertuzzi has been given due process. He has received a fair hearing by the NHL and the police. He has been treated with basic human dignity.
It’s a crying shame he didn’t show that same respect on Monday.
—Staff writer Jon Paul Morosi can be reached at email@example.com.
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