British Columbia authorities charged Vancouver Canucks all-star Todd Bertuzzi with assault yesterday for punching Colorado's Steve Moore from behind during a game March 8. Moore suffered a broken neck and other serious injuries as a result of the punch, which brought further scrutiny to the issue of violence in hockey.
Bertuzzi, who was charged with committing assault causing bodily harm, is the second NHL player in the past four years to be prosecuted for an on-ice incident. The decision to charge Bertuzzi came after nearly four months of investigation, said Geoffrey Gaul, the director of legal services for the Crown Counsel of British Columbia.
Bertuzzi, one of the NHL's premier forwards, is scheduled to appear in a Vancouver courtroom July 9. The government will choose which court will hear the case. Bertuzzi could get up to 11/2 years in jail if tried in provincial court and up to 10 years if the case is heard in British Columbia Supreme Court.
The attack occurred in the final minutes of a game the Avalanche led 8-2. The 6-foot-3, 245-pound Bertuzzi grabbed the 6-2, 205-pound Moore from behind, punched Moore on the side of the head, then landed on top of him, driving Moore face-first into the ice.
Moore suffered three fractured vertebrae, facial lacerations, post-concussion syndrome and amnesia and doesn't know whether he'll play professional hockey again. The attack was believed to be retribution for Moore's hit in a prior game on Vancouver captain Markus Naslund, who missed three games because of a concussion.
Gaul said the evidence presented by Vancouver police met the two key standards required to proceed: a likelihood of conviction, and the best interest of the public.
Bertuzzi was suspended by the NHL for the remaining 13 games of the regular season and the Canucks' seven postseason contests. Bertuzzi forfeited almost $502,000 of his $6.8 million salary; the Canucks were fined $250,000. Bertuzzi, who also was left off Canada's World Cup roster, must meet with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman before being reinstated. A meeting has not yet been scheduled.
"As we stated at the time the suspension was imposed, we believe the league rendered an appropriate decision, one that was stern and swift," Bill Daly, NHL executive vice president and chief legal officer, said in a statement. "We . . . would have preferred that the Crown not take this action."
Canucks Senior Vice President and General Manager Dave Nonis said in a statement: ". . . we will continue to support Todd and his family throughout this process."
Colorado Avalanche President and General Manager Pierre Lacroix said members of his organization will cooperate with authorities prosecuting the case.
Bertuzzi's only public comment about the incident was a tearful apology two days later.
"Steve, I just want to apologize for what happened out there," he said. "I had no intention of hurting you. I feel awful for what transpired. . . . I don't play the game that way. I'm not a mean-spirited person. I'm sorry for what happened."
Fighting is commonplace in the NHL; however, legal action stemming from on-ice incidents is rare.
Most recently, Marty McSorley, then a player for the Boston Bruins, was charged with assault with a weapon for his stick attack in 2000 on Donald Brashear, then a player for the Canucks. McSorley, who was suspended from the NHL for one season, was convicted of assault and received an 18-month conditional discharge, meaning no jail time and no criminal record.