Wednesday, June 30, 2010

From Cross-Checking To A Crime: When Is Violence In Hockey Criminal

With recent criminal charges pressed against Patrice Cormier for his hit on Michael Tam that sent Tam into convulsions on the ice, the issue has come up again - when is violence in hockey criminal.

Let's first look back at some notable incidents over the past 20 years.

1988 - Dino Ciccarelli repeatedly hits Leafs rookie defenceman Luke Richardson with his stick around the neck and head area. Charged and convicted of assault, he was sentenced to one day in jail and fined $1,000. Richardson goes on to play in 20 NHL seasons.

Watch it here -

2000 - Marty McSorley of the Boston Bruins hits Vancouver Canuck Donald Brashear in the head with his stick from behind as the game comes to a close and after losing a fight to Brashear earlier in the game. Brashear falls backward hitting his head hard on the ice. Brashear loses consciousness and suffers grade 3 concussion. McSorley is charged with assault and is suspended by the NHL for the remainder of the 1999–2000 season missing 23 games. McSorley is found guilty of assault for his attack on Brashear and gets a conditional discharge. McSorley never plays in the NHL again.

2004 - After repeated failed attempts to instigate a fight, Todd Bertuzzi of the Vancouver Canucks punches Steve Moore of the Colorado Avalanche in the back of the head, knocking Moore unconscious. The pair fall to the ice with Bertuzzi’s weight crushing Moore face-first into the ice. Moore sustains three fractured vertebrae, a grade three concussion, vertebral ligament damage and facial lacerations. Bertuzzi pleads guilty to assault causing bodily harm and as part of his plea deal, gets a conditional discharge. No jail time, no record. Six years later, Bertuzzi looks to extend his contract with the Red Wings. Moore won’t play hockey ever again.

2004 - Alexander Perezhogin clubs Garrett Stafford in the head with his stick. The blow knocks Stafford to the ice unconscious in convulsions, and results in twenty stitches, the loss of teeth and a concussion. Perezhogin pleads guilty to assault and gets a conditional discharge as part of a plea deal.

2007 - Chris Simon of the Islanders strikes Ryan Hollweg in the face with his hockey stick. Simon receives a match penalty for attempt to injure, resulting in his ejection from the game. Hollweg suffers a cut to the chin that requires two stitches. The Nassau County district attorney decides not to press charges. Simon says there is no place in hockey for what he did.

2008 - Backup goalie turned backup singer Jonathan Roy charges down the ice and beats up an unwilling Bobby Nadeau, goalie for the Chicoutimi Sagueneens . He then fights another player, and then while escorted off the ice expresses his displeasure for the crowd by way of sign language. Roy is charged with assault in connection with his fight with Nadeau, pleads guilty and gets a conditional discharge. In his press conference, he apologizes for his gesture to the crowd but does not apologize for attacking Nadeau.

2010 - Forward Patrice Cormier of the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies comes off the bench and makes a bee-line for Quebec Ramparts Michael Tam. Cormier elbows Tam in the jaw sending him into convulsions on the ice. Cormier was charged with assault. Tam was back playing hockey a month later and subsequently suspending 2 games for boarding.

Violence in hockey is as old as the game itself. In 1927, three Ottawa Senator players were charged with assault after a stick swinging incident involving some Montreal Wanderer players.

The recent case of Cormier has reopened discussions as to when a hit on the ice should be considered a crime.

Looking at criminal assault is helpful to understand the issue.

In order to establish the crime of assault, you need to show 2 things: (1) an intention to harm, and (2) the victim didn’t consent to that harm.

In hockey, when you step on the ice, you consent to some form of bodily contact and harm, and the risk of injury that flows from that. This is because hockey is understood to be a violent game. Players consent to harm that is incidental to the game but not to acts that are so clearly outside the scope of what is acceptable in the game. So Marian Hossa’s devastating high stick on Bryan Berard or Andy Sutton sending Jordan Leopold airborne are ok; Bertuzzi on Moore may not be ok though.

So in some cases when a player jumps on the ice and intentionally injures another player, and where the harm is overly aggressive, it could be said that the harmed player did not consent to the harm.

It follows then that it is possible that a crime has been committed on the ice.

In the case of the Cormier hit on Tam, some believed that Cormier intentionally hurt Tam (he was headhunting). The hit on Tam was considered so bad that, in the view of some, Tam could not be seen as having consented to it. What followed then was the charge of assault.

Some may say the hit happened pretty fast and it wasn’t as bad as some other stuff we’ve seen on the ice (like Bertuzzi for example or even some ‘fair’ hits). That is a good point. It is important to remember that the intent to injure component is really important when it comes to assault though.

Did Cormier intend to injure Tam? That’s always a critical question when determining whether a crime has occurred.

What do you think? Where does the Cormier hit fall along the spectrum of hockey hits? Was it a crime or was it just a part of hockey? What about the Roy fight – was that a crime?

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