Written by: Matthew Ruskan (@MRuskun)
Edited by: Curt Ashcraft (@cashcraft740)
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About ten years and six months ago, every hockey player was put in the position to sit back and look in the mirror long and hard.
This article needs some preface. I started playing hockey competitively when I was four years old. It is my game. My passion. I love it. Which made March 8, 2004 all the more impactful.
I cannot claim that I was watching the Colorado Avalanche stomp on the Vancouver Canucks that night, nor do I remember hearing about the event the next day. But I do remember the reverberations that went through the hockey world as Todd Bertuzzi’s fist went through Steve Moore’s jaw and ended his career.
If you have not seen the hit, I do not recommend watching it, but here it is if you would like to put yourself through that. It is that bad.
Here is what happened. Early in the season, Steve Moore, a rookie with the Colorado Avalanche, on February 16, 2004 checked Markus Näslund in the head as he was reaching for a puck. No penalty was called, nor was a suspension levied after further review by the league (even then Gary Bettman was still screwing up things as the Commissioner). At the time, Näslund was the leading goal scorer in the league and the Canuck’s captain.
Now, Moore’s hit was dirty. The league should have punished him, but that does not excuse what happened later.
The Av’s and Canucks played that game to a 5-5 tie with Gary Bettman in attendance (OK, so he at least did that correctly). No one, however, was at the game in Vancouver on March 8.
Steve Moore had already dropped the gloves for the next game. He knew he would have to. After all, his hit on Näslund was unacceptable and he had to pay. And he did. He fought Matt Cooke (shocking, I know) and sat in the box for five minutes. He had paid his dues. But with about 11:30 left in the third period and the game all but over (the Av’s were up 8-2 at the time), Todd Bertuzzi decided that Moore had not paid his price.
For about twenty seconds, Bertuzzi followed Moore around, tugging on his jersey asking to fight, and Moore continuously said no. That should have been the end of it, but as the puck exits the Colorado zone Bertuzzi grabs Moore’s jersey, pulls him back, and then throws a punch that crashes into Moore’s jaw and sends Moore face-first into the ice with nothing to break his fall. Bertuzzi piles on top of Moore, as does one of Moore’s teammates, resulting in a concussion and three fractured vertebrae. The long-term result: Moore's hockey career after 69 NHL games was officially over.
Bertuzzi was assessed a match penalty, ejected from the game, suspended for the next 17 months from the NHL and international hockey, and forfeited $501,926.396 in salary plus an estimated $350,000 in lost endorsements.
Going back and watching the video, all that I can feel is complete horror. This is not the game I love, the game that helped raise me.
Yes, a major part of hockey is standing up for your teammates. I myself have gone in and cleaned guys out with a crosscheck if they are messing with one of my teammates. But, as a friend of mine aptly pointed out, when you go in with the intent to hurt someone, even minorly as Bertuzzi did, you must accept the fact that you could hurt that player badly. Bertuzzi did not go out there planning to end Moore’s career. In fact, he is seen gasping in shock while watching the replay, but regardless, he threw the punch.
Looking back on it now, hockey has come a long way since then, but this incident should never be forgotten. Hockey players, and athletes in general, must remember that emotion must somehow be controlled. That in the moment when it gets out of hand, one move can end a career. But it is not just a career, it is a person and a dream they are living. Whether it be at the highest level or a rec game at the local rink.
Fight your opponents head-on as equals and then once that is over, tap him on the helmet and move on. Play the game as it is meant to be played. Play for the love of the game.