Tag Archives: Todd Bertuzzi

Question of Honour or Savagery?

By Jason Menard

Although the game’s played on ice, it seems that nothing heats up a Canadian’s passion than taking a critical look at the game of hockey.

Response to a column that I wrote in the Aug. 11, 2005 edition of The National Post, has been swift, passionate, and polarized. The column, which examined the questionable timing of the NHL’s reinstatement of the Vancouver Canucks’ Todd Bertuzzi on the same day as Wayne Gretzky’s announcement of his return to the game, was met with approval by some, but with vehement disapproval by others.

And what surprised me about the e-mailers who disagreed with me was not that they disagreed with the timing of the announcement, or with the actual point of my column – they were passionately opposed to the suspension in the first place, essentially saying Steve Moore, the object of Bertuzzi’s lack of affection, deserved it.

It seems that, according to the e-mailers, Bertuzzi did nothing more than avenge hockey’s karmic gods, which Moore angered by elbowing Bertuzzi’s teammate Markus Naslund. That, in the context of hockey, Bertuzzi’s actions were honourable and that he was being a stand-up teammate.

In fact, one respondent actually referred to Mr. Bertuzzi’s attack of Steve Moore as a “mild take down of the NHL’s honour code.” If Bertuzzi’s attack was mild, apparently more serious infractions should be met with death in the future.

How does the culture of hockey change when some of its fans and some of its players still ascribe to this barbaric system of retribution. The hockey gods must be of the Old Testament variety if this eye-for-an-eye honour code is how they must be appeased. And if the fans are willing to circle the wagons – or even start forming a lynch mob – to avenge their fallen heroes, then perhaps the game has deeper problems than a new CBA and a stricter enforcement of the rules can fix.

The idea of payback has been a part of hockey for generations. The Gordie Howes and Maurice Richards would dole out retribution on their own and were as tough as they were talented. Later on, the role of the enforcer developed – which explained why Dave Semenko was able to ride shotgun with Wayne Gretzky all those years – to allow the skill players to be skilled without fear of the opposing team taking liberties with them.

Bertuzzi, the player, signaled a throwback to the players of yesteryear — big, tough, talented, with hands as soft around the net as they were tough in a fight. And, it’s true that his act against Moore was done to avenge Moore’s hit on Naslund that put him out of commission. But the thing about honour is that it’s best served face-to-face. Not from behind, bulldogging your opponent to the ice face-first.

The players of yesteryear had a respect for each other. Whether it was borne from the lack of helmets or from the fact that they weren’t set for life with their rookie contract, they played the game tough, sometimes dirty, but not with the intention of blindsiding an opponent. Even the so-called goons respected the game enough to only go after each other.

The problem with the way hockey’s unspoken honour code is being interpreted is that many of the fans – and players themselves – forget that a major component of honour is respect. Respect for the game, respect for the fans, and respect for your fellow opponents.

I can understand the idea of standing up for yourself and your teammates. It’s one of the things that make this team sport so attractive – but there are limits. Just because somebody cuts my wife off on the highway doesn’t mean I get to run them off the road the next time I see them.

Hockey’s honour code does not foster the lawless society that some of the e-mailers believe. It does not allow for vigilante justice of this nature. While Bertuzzi’s intent may have been honourable, the way he enacted his frontier justice was not. Bertuzzi’s heart was in the right place, but his head and body weren’t on the same page. And even the fact that Moore was skating away from the confrontation does not justify jumping on his back.

Of course, it seems a lot of Bertuzzi fans would like nothing more to jump on Moore’s back along with him. The game of hockey is built upon the foundations of speed, beauty, and toughness – not savagery. And while honour has its place, it can’t exist without respect.

If the fans and the players lose that respect for one another, then our beloved game of hockey will devolve into nothing more than a bloodsport.

2005 © Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

The Great One Helps NHL Dodge a Bullet

By Jason Menard

Lordy be! Did you hear? The Great One is back on a NHL bench? He’s stepped down from the front office to lead the Phoenix Coyotes to the Promised Land! All is right in the NHL! The prodigal son has return! Call the heralds, shout it from the rooftops!

Oh, and by the way, Todd Bertuzzi’s allowed to play again. But did we tell you about Wayne?

What’s that old song about a spoon full of sugar? Whether intentional or not, and only a select few know for sure, the NHL took advantage of the positive vibes and noise created by its biggest media event in years to overwhelm the announcement of an unsavoury bit of resolved business.

If you have forgotten – and that’s hard to believe considering the footage was, and is once again, in a constant loop on the various sporting channels. But the gist of it is that the Vancouver Canucks’ forward viciously and thuggishly attacked the Colorado Avalanche’s Steve Moore from behind, driving his face into the ice, pummeling his helpless opponent, and potentially ending his career.

And after the NHL puffed itself up and expelled a lot of hot air announcing that strict suspensions would be in order and this matter would be taken seriously, what was the actual penalty? A handful of regular season games – 13 in total — and a post-season series.

That’s it. Forget this 17-month suspension to which the league is referring. That total conveniently neglects the fact that all the players were locked out for a majority of that time. Sure, he missed out on a few international events, but his participation in the NHL – what really matters to pro hockey players – was barely affected.

So, in the end, when all the rhetoric is stripped away, reality is examined, and the actual punishment is tallied up, potentially ending a player’s career through a vicious and intentional act gets you a slap on the wrist – basically Bertuzzi was sent into the corner for a short time out and is now allowed back to play with the rest of the kids. Well, all except Moore, whose future is still in question.

Thank goodness Wayne decided to come back. The star power, goodwill, and sheer popularity of The Great One is once again enough to save the NHL from itself again.

Despite all the goodwill engendered by the league coming to terms with its players, despite all the positive feelings spread throughout the league by former also-rans now playing on a level field with the big boys, despite the renewed excitement in the league generated by an unprecedented free agent frenzy, the brain trust of the NHL is still unable to stop shooting itself in the foot.

I don’t know Bertuzzi from a hole in the ground, but everything I’ve seen, heard, and read about the man – until that fateful event – was positive. Even after the incident, he has appeared to be genuinely apologetic and remorseful.

But that incident, while not unforgivable, is unforgettable. At a time when the league should be reveling in newfound potential, clips of the Bertuzzi incident are what are running on the sports shows. Instead of focusing on a feel-good story like Gretzky’s return, the talk shows will be rife with discussion of Bertuzzi’s suspension.

This was an opportunity for the league to show true leadership. A longer suspension would have been well received by fans and media alike. It would have proved a point that the league’s memory is long, and that transgressions of this nature will not be tolerated. But even if NHL’s brass had decided on Bertuzzi’s reinstatement, did they really need to smudge the polish that Wayne Gretzky provided on a banner day? Was there any pressing reason to announce a reinstatement?

The only logical, yet still illogical, reason for this was that the NHL was hoping to slide the news of Bertuzzi’s reinstatement under the radar, hoping that the sheer wattage produced by Gretzky’s shining image would be enough to blind everyone from this other bit of business.

Unfortunately for them that didn’t completely happen. And instead of being a day solely about Wayne, the Phoenix Coyotes, and the league welcoming back one of its greats, it turned into a day where certain bad memories, bad feelings, and bad tastes were left in the mouths of everyone that considers themselves a hockey fan.

Eventually Todd Bertuzzi should have been allowed to return – but timing is everything and it appears that the NHL still has some lessons to learn about that.

2005 © Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved