Finally, the National Hockey League has done something right, nomatter what the nightly news would like you to believe.
Last week, the NHL suspended Vancouver Canucks right wing ToddBertuzzi for the remaining 12 games of the regular season and forthe duration of the playoffs. Before training camp starts late inthe summer, Commissioner Gary Bettman will decide whether or notBertuzzi can play next season.
Earlier in the week, Bertuzzi sucker-punched Colorado Avalancherookie Steve Moore in the third period of a blowout loss for theCanucks. Bertuzzi skated up behind Moore, grabbed onto his jerseyand swung his right hand into Moore’s face. As Moore fell to theice, Bertuzzi landed on top of him and continued to slam his fistinto the rookie’s head. The vicious action was an obviousretaliation for Moore’s devastating yet legal elbow hit on Feb. 16that caused Canucks captain Markus Naslund to miss three games witha concussion. Moore is currently being hospitalized with twofractured vertebrae in his neck, sustaining a concussion andenduring facial cuts.
For the American media to bemoan the Bertuzzi incident and callfor a total reevaluation of the sport is purely preposterous. Notonly was the Bertuzzi-Moore hit replayed hundreds of times by ESPN,it also appeared on nightly newscasts of the major networkstations. There was Peter Jennings showing the slow-motion clip tohis ABC viewers, and CBS’s Dan Rather asking whether hockey hadcrossed the line between rough sports and brutality.
The punishment certainly fits the crime, and Bertuzzi’ssuspension marks possibly the best move Colin Campbell, the NHL’svice president, could have made. First of all, it sends a messagethat most non-hockey fans still do not realize: Bertuzzi isn’t yourprototypical goon, sent onto the ice by his coach to stir up afight.
Last year he was fifth in the league in scoring, with acareer-high 46 goals and 51 assists. He played with the world’sbest only a month ago at the All-Star Game.
To bar Bertuzzi from the playoffs is not to be taken lightlysince the Canucks, previously considered a true contender, will nowfind it much harder to compete for the Stanley Cup. It’s easy forthose not familiar with the NHL to comment that the suspension”still isn’t enough.” If they only realized how much it reallyis.
Secondly, Jennings and Rather have no right to analyze theBertuzzi incident without showing the glory of hockey. The flailingsport definitely receives poor treatment from the national press,particularly on network television. Even the awarding of the Cupitself, given to each season’s champions, gets little more than amere mention on the ABC or CBS nightly news. As a matter of fact,the last time hockey received this much publicity was in Feb. 2000when Boston’s Marty McSorley whacked his stick across the head ofVancouver’s Donald Brashear – an incident that earned McSorley anunprecedented 23-game suspension. For the viewers watching at home,two horrific incidents in a four-year span makes the NHL appearlike an all-thug league where games are somehow won not by how manytimes the puck crosses the goal line but by who draws the mostblood.
Anchors like Jennings and Rather should not focus just on theon-ice mayhem. Why do they ignore the success stories, such as MarkMessier passing Gordie Howe for second on the all-time points list?When Mark McGwire (and later Barry Bonds) broke the single-seasonhome run record, every station broke into regularly scheduledprograms with baseball news. The Jets and Giants have all their 16games aired on network television, with the Super Bowl coveredweeks in advance. The best the NHL can muster is an afternoonAll-Star Game broadcast on ABC followed by one or two measly 3 p.m.Saturday telecasts. Primetime for hockey? Only for the Stanley Cupfinals or when an isolated incident like Bertuzzi’s occurs.
Why is violence in other sports ignored but put under themagnifying glass for hockey? Most fans have no qualms when watchingheadhunting pitchers throw fastballs at batters’ skulls and hittheir targets. After all, fans argue, pitchers have to reclaim theinside part of the plate. If I remember correctly, Mike Piazza wasactually criticized for not charging the mound when Roger Clemensthrew a broken bat at him in the 2000 World Series. Sounds kind ofcontradictory in light of recent events.
Lastly, hockey games aren’t won with fights but with goals.Exciting two-on-one breaks never make the nightly news, and neitherdo sprawling leg saves, but that doesn’t mean hockey isn’t builtaround them. Ask any hockey fan and they’ll agree that scoring agoal is much sweeter than registering a knockout on the ice. Fightsare a great part of the game designed to fire up your teammates.But there can only be a fight if both players agree to drop themitts and duke it out. Most definitely, Bertuzzi’s actions couldnever be described as a “fight” – it was clearly criminalassault.
In handing down this stern suspension to Bertuzzi, the NHL toldits players to think before you act. If only the anchors wouldwatch a real hockey game – with pinpoint passes and post-to-postsaves – before they criticize infrequent fights.