The Beating Goes On Todd Bertuzzi's banishment hasn't slowed down the mayhem in the NHL

April 04, 2004

Every psychology 101 student knows the experiment: A rat that
receives a shock for standing near a certain food cup eventually
learns not to go there. NHL players, it seems, aren't as quick to
catch on. Even though the league reacted to Todd Bertuzzi's ugly
March 8 assault on Steve Moore of the Avalanche with appropriate
harshness--the Canucks forward was suspended for the rest of the
season--there has since been a spike in gratuitous violence. The
league has suspended 10 players and collected nearly $500,000 in
fines since Bertuzzi's March 11 punishment. One of the worst
incidents came on March 20, when Toronto enforcer Wade Belak
delivered a two-handed slash to the head of Colorado defenseman
Ossi Vaananen. After seeing another teammate felled by a cheap
shot, Teemu Selanne asked, "Does someone have to die before
things change?"

Belak, who was given an eight-game ban, is an enforcer who has
seven career goals and 811 penalty minutes. But the recent
offenders have spanned the talent spectrum. Rangers captain Mark
Messier received a two-game suspension for spearing Pittsburgh's
Martin Strbak in the groin on March 21. And Flames coach Darryl
Sutter was suspended for two games for "player selection" after
he sent goon Krzysztof Oliwa onto the ice in the closing seconds
of a brawl-filled match with the Predators.

Why can't hockey people control themselves? Selanne suggested
last week that he thinks some of the behavior may be attributed
to players' abuse of ephedrine, an ingredient in cold tablets.
The conventional wisdom, though, continues to be that violence is
part of the game's fabric. "Players don't really think [on the
ice]," says New Jersey defenseman Scott Niedermayer. "You do
things that you think will help your team win. You don't think of
the consequences."

But the consequences are often serious. Moore, who suffered two
fractured vertebrae, left a Denver-area hospital under his own
power last week and hopes to resume his career. If he does, he'll
find the NHL pretty much the way he left it.

--Stephen Cannella

COLOR PHOTO: JIM LEARY/WIREIMAGE.COM (GOALIE) GLOVES OFF Brawls are still common despite the suspension ofSutter (below) and others. COLOR PHOTO: ALBERT DICKSON/TSN/ICON SMI (SUTTER) [See caption above]