Two nine-year-old boys were sitting on the bench at soccer the other night, chatting freely as young boys will.
They were talking hockey.
Their remarks were chilling.
“Do you like hockey?” one asked the other.
“Yeah, I love hockey.”
“Who’s your favourite team.”
“The Vancouver Canucks.”
“Me too. Todd Bertuzzi plays for them.”
“Yeah, Todd Bertuzzi is my favourite player.”
“Me too. He’s strong. He broke a guy’s neck once.”
“I know. I saw it on television.”
And on it went, while their teammates kicked at a fuzzy, neon-yellow ball, sometimes connecting and sending it scooting down the gym floor.
It has been a while since Bertuzzi, the acclaimed Canuck forward, sucker-punched Colorado Avalanche rookie Steve Moore.
The infamous cheap shot is widely considered one of the ugliest moments in hockey history.
Punched from behind, Moore fell face first into the ice. Three vertebrae in his neck were broken. He suffered a serious concussion. He’s still recovering from his injuries 22 months later.
Bertuzzi was suspended by the NHL for 17 months. He resumed play last August.
The suspension cost Bertuzzi, one of the NHL’s marquee players, $501,926 in lost salary. As well, the cheap shot has made it almost impossible for him to find endorsement contracts.
Charged under the criminal code, Bertuzzi pleaded guilty to assault. He was sentenced to one year’s probation and 80 hours of community service.
Moore suffers from post-concussion syndrome. His future in hockey is unknown, but few expect him to return.
Just before Christmas, Bertuzzi was named to Canada’s Olympic hockey team.
“We’re proud to have him,” Team Canada’s assistant executive director Kevin Lowe said of Bertuzzi. “As human beings and in life and in this country, I think a big part of being Canadian is being able to forgive.”
It is nice sentiment.
Bertuzzi has paid a price for his cowardly hit, but most players get away with such viciousness, which is surprisingly common in the league.
Die-hard fans believe Bertuzzi was simply a victim of bad luck — others have delivered similar hits and their victims have barely suffered a bleeding nose — and has already paid an extraordinary price for the cheap shot.
They believe justice has been served.
Clearly those running the national sport agree.
And, fortunately, such thoughts dovetail nicely with Canada’s needs at the Olympics — there’s no doubt Bertuzzi is an important component of the national team. His participation might even land Canada in the medals.
So, all is forgiven. He’s on the team.
And, at least in opinion of two young boys, the guy who skated up behind a young hockey star and cold-cocked him, breaking his neck and probably ending his promising career is pretty cool.
He’s strong — their favourite player on their favourite team.
A role model.
Excellent, eh! (RM)