Wednesday, March 10, 2004

The precedent of Richard

Thursday morning across British Columbia, alarm clocks will ring just prior to 6 am. Canuck fans, Hockey fans and casual observers alike, will awaken to learn the fate of Canuck's forward Todd Bertuzzi. Having appeared in Toronto earlier today for a disciplinary hearing, Bertuzzi will learn his fate when the verdict is delivered Thursday at 9 am Toronto time, 6 am on a Vancouver clock.

Many observations have been made about the expected length of a suspension, the McSorley/Brashear incident used as a template, or the Matt Johnson hit on Jeff Beukeboom another yardstick. But should one want to learn of a similar type of incident that went down in hockey and Canadian history, look back to March of 1955 and the suspension of Rocket Richard. It might make for a suggestion as what awaits Bertuzzi.

Richard was also involved in a terrible on ice incident in the third period of a game on March 13, against the Bruins. Richard's temper getting the better of him, hit Bruin forward Hal Laycoe on the head with his stick, actually using three separate sticks in the process. As the situation deteriorated on the ice, Richard made the mistake of punching twice, linesman Cliff Thompson as well. The justice was swift on the 16th, Clarence Campbell held a hearing and suspended Richard for the rest of the regular season and the playoffs. Effectively stopping Richard's chance to win the scoring championship that year. Mayhem took to the streets of Montreal the night of the 17th, as Campbell foolishly attended a Canadiens/Wings game at the Forum. By the end of the night rioting up and down Ste. Catherine Street left the downtown part of the city a mess and the Quebec Quiet revolution had begun.

Now while the two incidents are not totally similar, they both involved players considered key to their respective teams. Richard was a hard nosed forward, with a gift of a scoring touch. The original design of the power forward. It's a role that Bertuzzi has played to similar success over the years for the Canucks. While he is not Rocket Richard, Bertuzzi is one of the top players on his team, a definite reason for their success on the ice. The Richard incident was unique as it involved repeated run ins with officials but the violence of that night, as in the Bertuzzi incident shocked many.

When the suspension is announced in the morning, the streets of Vancouver will remain safe, Gary Bettman most likely able to travel to watch hockey at GM Place ,without fear of an uprising of the fans. For the most part, Vancouver fans are just as distraught at the actions of Monday night as anyone. Indeed tonight many sat glued to their television sets, as Todd Bertuzzi himself did an act of contrition. A moving and emotional apology to Steve Moore, the game of hockey and the fans of the game. Even the most cynical of people, will have to admit that Bertuzzi's honesty in apology could not be questioned. The timing of the apology probably the best indicator of the sincerity, had he made the apology before his hearing it would have been construed as grandstanding for a lesser sentence. He must know that his fate is sealed, thus if nothing else, the apology is a valid heartfelt statement from someone who truly appears to be sorry. It should not and will not have any bearing on his suspension.

Thursday morning as the Vancouver alarms clocks ring out at 6am, Bertuzzi will join The Rocket. His team like Montreal of 1955, will have to face the playoffs without one of their leaders. The suspension will be for the rest of the season and the entire playoffs. Fourty nine years separate the two incidents, two players who formed a major part of their teams personna, now twinned together in NHL history. More importantly we realize that the games violence is still an underlying theme of the sport, 49 years of history show us that work still needs to be done.

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