Tuesday, 8 March 2011

No spectators in the Bertuzzi incident

The attack by Bertuzzi on Moore.

It’s been seven years to the day since my father and I saw the worst hockey game of our lives, in Darby’s Pub at 4th and MacDonald, on March 8, 2004.
Yes, I'm talking about the Todd Bertuzzi incident.
Big Bert, all 6’3 and 231 pounds of him, leveled forward Steve Moore with a blindside punch from behind, and then – depending on who you talk to – drives Moore’s head into the ice with his full weight on top of him. Several of Moore’s vertebrae bones were snapped, and red blood gushed from his head onto the ice.

Mayhem ensued, in a game that was already something like 8-2 for the Colorado Avalanche over the Vancouver Canucks. A pressure cooker of anger, frustration, calls for revenge, bloodlust, had finally exploded. Gloves came flying off in all directions.

Emotional withdrawal ensued, in the face of esteemed team captain Markus Naslund. Even to this day, my father and I recall seeing Nazzy on the bench with a blank stare on his face, bewildered at all that was going on. This respected Swede, proud family man, team leader, scoring leader, was seeing his beloved game turning into a WWE sideshow. That image remains the strongest image in my head from that night, because it’s so symbolic of the feeling that my father and I had as well. Idiocy had finally won out.

Physical withdrawal ensued, as well, in the form of Steve Moore, who never again played an NHL game. He was carried off on a stretcher. At that point, it was pretty quiet at GM Place.

Lacrimal sac withdrawal ensued, for Big Todd – then one of the most popular players ever to pull on a Canucks jersey – at a press conference a few days later, blubbering and apologizing profusely for his on-ice douchebaggery a few days earlier.

He’d tried to call Moore a couple of times to apologize, but Moore didn’t pick up the phone. Lawsuits and criminal charges ensued. This was all becoming a big headache for the NHL, for Canucks coach Marc Crawford and Orca Bay – both included in Moore’s multi-million dollar lawsuit against Bertuzzi – and for Big Bert himself.

People pointed fingers. The NHL was at fault for not properly disciplining Moore in the first place for his hit on Naslund. Crawford was at fault for not keeping his players under control. Referees were at fault for not curbing the escalation of emotion in the game itself. Moore himself was at fault for verbally sniping at Canucks players on the bench before the incident.

Bert, of course, was at fault too. It was his punch. It was his attack. He was the one who jumped on Steve Moore and put him out of commission. This had gone beyond hockey. It was all about personal revenge.

What seems to be forgotten in the midst of it all is the fans’ own responsibility. We Canucks fans – myself included – were offended that Moore should have the gall to deliver a head hit to our top player. We bayed for revenge just like anyone else. Conn Smythe’s immortal words rang true in everyone’s heads: “If you can't beat them in the alley, you can't beat them on the ice.” We’ve believed for so long that the events that transpire in a hockey game are beyond the normal rules of society. We believed in eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth.

Leading up to the Todd Bertuzzi incident – even in that very game – fans were screaming bloody murder, calling for Moore’s head. But after the Todd Bertuzzi incident, after all the fighting and mayhem had died down, we watched Moore being carried off. I distinctly remember feeling sickened at this spectacle. I remember the looks on fans’ faces in the pub and on the TV. It was pretty clear – we fucked up. Every one of us.

We’re all responsible for this. Bertuzzi, of course, could have done things differently – and I’m sure he wishes he had – but that doesn’t exclude the rest of us from responsibility. It’s hard being a multi-million dollar hockey player with 20,000 fans all baying for blood, your crazy coach screaming over your head when you sit on the bench, millions of others watching on TV all watching your every move. Bert, being a human being, was caught up in the mob psychology. We fans were caught up in it too. Moore, also a human being, suffered the consequences.

If you are a hockey fan who screamed outrage at Moore’s hit on Naslund, and said that Moore deserved some kind of vigilant justice for his actions, then you have no right to point fingers at Bertuzzi for doing what he did. You encouraged it. You are also an active player in the Bertuzzi incident.

It’s important to remember that. Nothing happens in a vacuum.

Let’s also remember the irony of another of Conn Smythe’s famous quotes about violence on the ice: “We'll have to stamp out that kind of thing or the people are going to keep buying tickets.”

The irony of that statement reverberates even today. Just food for thought.


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