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Skating On Thin Ice.
March 12, 2004

by Bill Hogan

 

 
 

On March 12, 1966, Bobby Hull set a single-season, National Hockey League goal scoring record. The Chicago Blackhawks star scored a third period goal against the New York Rangers giving him 51 for the season. He would end the year with a record 54 goals.

He would also end the 1965-66 season the same way he started it, without a helmet. The NHL didn't make the use of hockey helmets mandatory until the start of the 1979-80 season. Even then, veteran players had the option of competing helmet-less.

 
 


Considering the violent nature of the sport, it's hard to believe anyone would dispense with the added equipment, but many did. Craig MacTavish was the last NHL player to play without protective headgear. He retired in 1997 with no apparent cranial damage.

Jacques Plante was one of the best goalies in the NHL in the 1950's and '60's. The All-Star net-minder led the league in goals-against average nine times in his career and is a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame.

While playing for the Montreal Canadians, Plante introduced another vital piece of equipment to the sport. After stopping countless pucks with his face, he entered the November 1, 1959 game against the New York Rangers wearing a face mask.

Prior to wearing the mask, Plante had received hundreds of stitches and, at various times, had broken his nose and both cheekbones as well as suffering a fractured skull. For obvious reasons, the hockey mask quickly caught on.

The addition of the helmet and face mask as essential parts of a player's equipment dutifully serve to limit the number of serious on-ice injuries. That is, injuries that may occur during the normal course of play.

State of the art equipment worn in all the right places will not prevent an out of control player from inflicting severe bodily harm to an opponent if that is his goal. As rough a sport as hockey is; as tough as the players are; as physical as the competition gets; there are rules that must be followed. And there's a line that must not be crossed.

Todd Bertuzzi of the Vancouver Canucks crossed that line the other night when he assaulted Steve Moore. Bertuzzi blindsided the Colorado Avalanche All-Star with a blow to the head, then drove the defenseless center to the ice head first.

Along with deep facial cuts and a concussion, Moore broke his neck; two vertebra to be exact. I like a good, clean hockey fight now and then, as do most hockey fans. But replays of this incident are disgusting. Bertuzzi's egregious act was not good and certainly was not clean.

The NHL suspended Bertuzzi for the rest of the season - including the playoffs - and he will have to petition the league for reinstatement next year. That's a harsh penalty by professional sports standards. But if you ask me, he's lucky he's not sitting in a jail cell in Toronto right now.

This guy must have watched "Slap Shot" a few too many times. It's alright for the Hanson brothers to wrap their hands up in aluminum foil before the start of a game knowing they will spend whatever ice time they get trying to dismember the other team. To see that kind of behavior in an NHL game is just repulsing.

Bertuzzi apologized to Moore saying "I had no intention of hurting you." From what I saw, it looked like he had every intention of hurting Moore. This wasn't some Three Stooges episode where Moe hits Curly in the head with a sledge hammer then they go out for a slice of pizza.

It seems pretty cut and dry. You cold cock someone from behind and then pile drive his limp body into the ice, "hurt" is a given, it's just really lucky he isn't dead. The NHL dealt with the on-ice incident, but they didn't deal with the assault.

When a postal employee goes, well, postal and shoots up the mail sorting department because one of the guys took the last Twix bar from the vending machine, he's not just suspended, he's prosecuted.

I understand that every illegal cross check or high stick to the face could be considered assault with a weapon, but it doesn't take a personal injury lawyer to see that this case is different. It was indecent and senseless.

I hope Steve Moore is back on the ice before Todd Bertuzzi.

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