Tue Mar 08 04:56pm EST
On March 8, 2004, Todd Bertuzzi(notes) of the Vancouver Canucks sucker-punched Colorado Avalanche forward Steve Moore, drove his face into the ice, concussed him and broke his neck. But you know that.
Do you remember when it occurred? At 8:41 of the third period, with the Avalanche already up 8-2 in what would be a 9-2 victory. As Joe Sakic(notes) said seven years ago, in a moment of now-extraordinary understatement: "It really puts a damper on the whole game."
But hey, we all said things then about Bertuzzi/Moore that, in hindsight, look quaint, incorrect or baffling. Like naming a message board thread "Steve Moore, still an unapologetic punk in my books." Or Matt Bradley(notes) saying in 2004 of Bertuzzi: "He just happened to go I think a little bit overboard."
Bertuzzi, 29, has been suspended indefinitely pending a hearing at the N.H.L. office in Toronto on Wednesday. Moore was at the center of a controversy a month ago after delivering a questionable blow to Vancouver's captain, Markus Naslund(notes), who led the league in scoring at the time. No penalty was called, but Naslund, who was struck in the head, missed three games with a concussion. At the time, Bertuzzi called Moore a punk and said he was glad the teams had two games remaining.
Vancouver's Brad May said of Moore after that game: ''There's definitely a bounty on his head. Clean hit or not, that's our best player and you respond. It's going to be fun when we get him.''
May later said his comments were tongue-in-cheek.
So much changed after that incident. Bertuzzi's career. Moore's life. Hockey's reputation -- it's impossible to have the second story on "The Today Show" feature your sport's darkest hour and not have your character sullied significantly.
But in 2011, there's one ancillary change that resonates with us, and that's how Bertuzzi/Moore changed the language in hockey.
You don't hear talk of bounties all that often. Or the joy of violent retribution. The more one mentions them, the nearer they come to the hellfire of the Bertuzzi incident, which still manages to burn through the rainbows of the post-lockout NHL (outdoor games, record ratings, crooked Ovechkin smiles). It's like a family member doing 30-to-life in a state pen, ostracized from life but still getting debt collection notices mailed to the house.
It also changed the language in how we discuss violent incidents in the NHL.
There's no audio here, but refresh your memory on Bertuzzi, Moore and Naslund, if you can stomach it:
Now, how many sucker punches have we seen in the NHL described as "Bertuzzi-like" or "Bertuzzi-esque" in their denouncement? Plenty, and most recently Matt Martin's wallop on Max Talbot during that New York Islanders/Pittsburgh Penguins chaos.
None of them measure up to the real McCoy, of course. But we still toss around his name and reference that incident like it isn't the hockey equivalent of bringing up Hitler in a political debate; if you compare what Todd Bertuzzi did to Steve Moore to any whatever melee you're describing, there's no going back. You've elevated it to the ultimate standard for reckless, intentional violence in the rink.
For which, of course, Bertuzzi apologized:
That it was intentional, of course, isn't in dispute in 2011. Whose intentions they were remains at issue, as Allan Maki of the Globe and Mail explained:
In the seven years since the Bertuzzi-Moore incident: Bertuzzi was criminally charged, pled guilty to assault and received a conditional discharge; Moore and his parents filed a multi-million-dollar suit; Bertuzzi and the Canucks have filed counter-claims as have Bertuzzi and Crawford, the Canucks' former coach.
Bertuzzi is claiming he was following Crawford's orders to make Moore "pay the price" for the hit on Naslund while Crawford has said Bertuzzi acted in "direct disobedience" for not coming off the ice before the attack occurred.
The fact that there is active ligation between a player and a coach in the National Hockey League, and that fact isn't at the forefront of every sentence of coverage when the Stars and Red Wings play, speaks volumes about how laborious this seven-year legal process has been.
But soon we'll hear from them all, in a court of law. The wounds will be reopened. The sewage the NHL worked seven years to cap will burst. At best, it's a reminder of what the NHL used to be. At worst, it's a reminder of what it might be again some day. And that's something we all have to live with, seven years on and beyond.