If it’s true time really only flies when you’re having fun, this past decade must have seemed like a long nightmare for Steve Moore, one from which he will almost certainly never awaken. That’s because March 8 marked 10 years since Todd Bertuzzi hunted him down, attacked him from behind and brutally ended his career.
Let’s take stock of what we’ve learned since then. First thing is that the wheels of justice, in civil court at least, grind very slowly. The long awaited trial stemming from Moore’s $60-million lawsuit against Bertuzzi is scheduled to begin Sept. 8, exactly 10 years and six months after the on-ice attack.
We’ve also learned not much has changed since that night in Vancouver when Bertuzzi, seeking revenge for a previous dirty hit from Moore on Markus Naslund, jumped Moore from behind, punched him and drove him face first into the ice. Moore sustained three broken vertebrae, a concussion and lasting brain damage that still hampers his ability to live a normal life today. In the intervening 10 years, Bertuzzi did his 80 hours of community service, resumed his NHL career and after this season will have earned $27,819,454 in the nine seasons since the attack.
We also know that as much as Gary Bettman respects and emulates David Stern, he is no David Stern when it comes to turning moments like this one into an opportunity to shift course. The Bertuzzi attack on Moore was as close as the NHL has ever come to its Kermit Washington-Rudy Tomjanovich moment. In a game in 1977, shortly after an on-court scuffle, Washington of the Los Angeles Lakers sucker-punched Tomjanovich of the Houston Rockets with such devastating force that Tomjanovich could taste the spinal fluid leaking from his brain and required reconstructive facial surgery.
It was a seminal moment for the NBA and Stern, when he became commissioner seven years later, used the incident to crack down on fighting in the NBA and effectively eliminate the enforcer role that was occupied by players such as Washington. Instead of marketing the game on fighting, Stern took it out of the game and hinged his league’s popularity on stars Larry Bird and Magic Johnson. Bettman, on the other hand, has never displayed leadership in cleaning up the game and eliminating ugly incidents from happening. He continues to head up a league that “sells hate” in the words of senior vice-president Colin Campbell and often features fights as “must see” elements on its website.
(And let’s not start with this nonsense the Bertuzzi attack on Moore had nothing to do with fighting. It had everything to do with fighting. The main reason Bertuzzi attacked Moore in the first place was that Moore had rebuffed Bertuzzi on several previous occasions when Bertuzzi tried to goad him into a fight.)
It’s remarkable, really, how little has changed since what should have been such a seismic event on the hockey landscape. All you have to do is turn the clock back to a game between Pittsburgh and Boston. In that December game, Bruins fourth-liner Shawn Thornton attacked an unsuspecting Brooks Orpik, knocking him to the ice and punching him repeatedly in the head. It was astounding in its cowardice and its similarity to the Bertuzzi incident. And why did Thornton, one of those supposed high-character guys who are supposed to keep things safe on the ice, go after Orpik? In retaliation for a hit by Orpik on Boston’s Loui Eriksson that left Eriksson with a concussion. Like Moore, Orpik turned down invitations to fight earlier in the game.
Heck, you don’t even have to go back that far. Vancouver coach John Tortorella just cooled his heels for 15 days for trying to go after Calgary coach Bob Hartley between periods, which stemmed from a line brawl off the opening faceoff. The reason it all happened was Hartley put out his goon squad to start the game and Tortorella responded in kind. During the pre-season, ex-Buffalo coach Ron Rolston was fined for “player selection” for putting dancing bear John Scott out to intimidate Toronto’s star Phil Kessel.
Every time these kinds of things happen, those who think fighting still has a place in the game cluck their tongues and wag their fingers and claim there is no place for that kind of thing. But when you’re part of a league and a culture that doesn’t provide any sort of deterrent to fighting, it’s only a matter of time before you start descending that slippery slope into madness. The NBA realized that almost 40 years ago. The NHL still has to come to that realization.
So where are we 10 years after the Bertuzzi-Moore incident? It appears we’re on our way to getting legal closure on this in a lawsuit in which the game and culture of violence in it could be on trial every bit as much as Bertuzzi is. But in terms of doing anything about it, the NHL remains mired in the muck.