March 23, 2004  
Volume 97, Issue 90  

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“Violence” in hockey doesn’t exist

Under review
Ian Denomme

Sports Editor

“If you can’t beat ’em in the alley; you can’t beat ’em on the ice.”

Those immortal words of former Toronto Maple Leafs owner and general manager Conn Smythe — spoken over 70 years ago — seem to be very significant in the hockey world right now.

In the wake of the Todd Bertuzzi/Steve Moore incident, the NHL has been under the microscope and heavily criticized for the level of violence some people believe exists in the game. The finger pointing has also begun as critics try to find out who is responsible.

However, to use the word “violence” is not fair. There is no “violence” in hockey — the two words do not belong in the same sentence. It is important to consider what “violence” means.

Violence is guns, blood, hate and explosions. Wars are violent; terrorism is violence and street crime is violence. The disputes in the Middle East and around the world are violent. Hockey is not “violent.”

Open ice hits and crease crashing are not violent. Hip-checks and scrums are not violent. Fighting is not violent. There is absolutely nothing wrong with two guys settling a disagreement by dropping the gloves, throwing a few punches, then cooling off for five minutes.

What Todd Bertuzzi did to Steve Moore was terribly wrong, but not necessarily violent. Don’t get me wrong — it was a despicable act and he deserves every bit of the punishment he got, but it should end there.

Bertuzzi should not be charged criminally, and in no way should he go to jail with thieves, rapists and murderers. What happens on the ice should stay there. All hockey players know there is a voluntary assumption of risk that comes with putting on skates.

Of course, there is the odd bloodshed in hockey. But, seeing Ryan Smyth getting stitched up on the bench is more inspiring than it is violent. Hockey is a physical game that at times does result in injuries, but cannot be compared to anything that might be considered violent.

“Kill the other guy before he kills you.”

Former boxing champion Jack Dempsey’s motto says a lot about the mentality of many athletes. For as long as there has been sport there have been athletes willing to do whatever it takes to win.

Obviously, every sport is different and injuries are a reality, and every sport has moments that hurt its reputation. It seems, however, that hockey has more of them. Other sports have incidents that have been black marks on the game, but the majority of those are events that happened away from the field.

The Bertuzzi incident is another in a lengthy list of on-ice incidents in the NHL. The other most recent was Marty McSorley’s stick-swinging incident on Donald Brashear. Others of note were Tie Domi’s sucker punch on Ulf Samuelsson and Dale Hunter’s cross check on Pierre Turgeon.

The repercussions of Bertuzzi’s actions could increase and cause a ripple effect throughout the league. One of the big question marks now is fighting, and there are some lobbying to have it removed from the game entirely, which would be a huge mistake.

Without fighting in the NHL, incidents similar to the Bertuzzi case would increase. Players need to know that if they do something wrong the enforcer on that team will get them back. However, not in the way Bertuzzi did.

The instigator rule has forced players to think twice about picking a fight, and instead resort to dirty hits, high sticks and cross checks as retribution.



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