Ice hockey is played on a low friction surface and the rules are designed to allow for the inevidable bumping, grinding that results in some emotional pushing and shoving and retaliatory hits. Heck, I am all for fighting in hockey and the idea that big players can help keep the inherent violence in check when utilized right.
There is a huge difference between the fine art of the huge open ice hit (see Scott Stevens infamous legal leveling of a head down superstar Eric Lindros) or the well choreographed fight and what Patrice Cormier of Rouyn-Noranda did taking a full-on open ice debilitory headhunting run Mikael Tam of the Quebec Remparts that ranks right up there with Todd Bertuzzi … Chris Simon … Tie Domi …
The problem with allowing this kind of behavior to exist is it undermines the game and the physical nature inherent to the way the rules themselves function. The call for a players head (pardon the pun) are well warranted. Careers are unnecessarily ended over a vendetta as a handful of players take on blatantly illegal actions on the ice. Lives should not have to be lost next.
There will always be a handful of players who will probably have inherent mean streaks that cannot be deterred. It might sound terrible to compare the two, but it is not like the death penalty stops murders. You know what it does do? It takes those murders out of society permanently. It is not different if a lifetime ban from all of hockey as all the North American leagues ban together removes a player permanently from the NA system. Take a player that has shown a propensity to be a headhunter off the ice as soon as possible and spare all the related leagues their menace.
It is certainly one thing for young players to be physically aggressive to prove their worth. Throwing a big check or landing a big punch is one thing. Mimicking the great checks over the years is quite another still, even if some of them were clearly legal and still injuring. But deciding to skate recklessly with a seeming will to do detrimental bodily harm should never, ever be tolerated.
No one can be in Patrice Cormier’s head as he skated full speed cross ice with one target in mind. When he lifted his elbow and clocked Tam point blank with it to Tam’s blindside, completely leveling him to the ice, one still can’t be sure the intent. But the view from any point on the ice shows a completely illegal hit in every fashion, from the approach to the check to the delivery, it was flatly illegal. Intent or not, it deserves a suspension. Arguing for anything other than that just encourages illegal checks and continues that mentality and mindset at the youngest levels of the sport as players wish to excel. If it is illegal, it is illegal, period and when you let any rule slide you might as well let all of them. These rules about hitting are in place for a number of reasons, when it’s this blatant it needs to be dealt with that blatantly, regardless the outcome. Even if Cormier hit the Lou Frigno with that check and the Hulk remained standings, suspend him. If not to teach anyone else the hit was wrong, to remind Cormier that that hit is illegal, period and take his style of play off the ice to protect himself AND every other player he might face.
Now, argue intent on this one… should seem fairly easy considering the B-line Cormier takes right at Tam seemingly set up to obliterate him straight from the boards to center ice. None of us are really in his head to assume anything but it sure as ice is slick seems like his sole purpose is to annihilate Tam. One doesn’t just accidentally level a guy like that in the heat of the moment the way the play unfolded. That’s pretty pre-meditated. If a guy can plan out that type of debilitating hit as young as he is, what’s to say as he learns the upper leagues and how to manipulate the rules and his body better he couldn’t do even more damage if he so desired. Regardless the outcome of this hit, even if Tam skated away, the approach to the hit shows there is a fundamental problem with Patrice Cormier as a player, one that needs to be addressed for himself and the safety of the players around him. Irregardless to if suspending him deters others long or short term, getting him off the ice so he cannot continue his reckless style of play is imperative.
Allowing him and his ilk to make it out of the junior leagues and potentially compete on a national or international stage is scary. Does the league really need to let in another Bertuzzi and maybe next time end up with a corpse rather than a player in traction? what if Patrice Cormier was to come up through the New JersDevils system and end up on a team that was willing to hire an on ice assassin he could and seemingly would judging by his career hits so far, take another illegal run at a player and perhaps be the one to do worse than end a guys career, maybe, end his life.
Yes, Tam’s fall and subsequent reaction on the ice is chilling (again, pardon the pun). This is not a reaction to what happened to Tam, it is a reaction to the delivery of the hit in the first place and understanding that there is no place in hockey for it, regardless of if the guy does get up or ends up leaving on a stretcher like Tam. Tam’s injury should serve as a wakeup call to show intolerance for this type of play, not just to deter future players from making it but remove those players from the ice who haven’t learned to this point they CANNOT play that way and ensure they DO NOT do further damage to the sport, to other players or themselves. It isn’t just make sure kids learn from Cormier, it’s making sure cormier cannot do this again and perhaps it ends even worse next time. To make this just about one or the other misses the point of both.
It is inherently sad that Bertuzzi is still on the ice after being convicted of assault on a fellow player on the ice and the league in its infinite wisdom allowed Todd to play again and some team (um Detroit, the team that showed infinite class in player selection to that point and deserve a mediocre season now having him) allowed him employment again. Violence is still a problem and although perhaps Bertuzzi did indeed learn from his mistake, is this really a roulette wheel gamble we want to take with every overly violent player? It’s only a marginal difference between a hit ending a player’s career and one that ends their life when you look at the violent maneuvers in question here.
I for one love the aggressive and physical nature of hockey. Again, it is inherent in the sport and it’s natural to even the most skills based player’s approach. What I fear what it could be allowed to become if we open it up to MMA style attacks is the agression and physical nature manifests itself in even worse endings to acts than what happened to Tam. Just because violence is inherent in the sport, just because goons always existed in the sport, does not mean we need to, under any circumstances, tollerate, allow or support this type of play. This isn’t something that needs policing by another big checker or good fighter, this is something that needs to be weeded out at a higher level so the violence and bloodshed doesn’t escalate further because of one player’s inability to play the game. vendettas are never good in any sport, when a vendetta comes out the way Patrice Cormier handled the hit of Tam the best solution is to remove a player like Cormier so no one tries to kill him next and his anger doesn’t kill someone else in the process.
Suspend cormier and let his suspension carry over from North American league to North American league. Stop this kid from hurting anyone else. And, when the next player does it, remove them from the North American system too with expulsion from hockey that is honored from league to league. Systematically remove players who have a pattern of violent behavior and maybe, just maybe we’ll have less of them at the professional NHL level for little kids to look up to and learn from and after a couple of generations of removing blatantly illegal play beginning at the low levels knowing it is never tolerated anywhere else we can teach kids how to play hockey right, smart, so they can all live to play hockey again to the next day and the only issues left are freak accidents and not episodes like Tam and where the result of a hit that should never be taken results in a freak accident itself that could and should always be avoided because when you go in with intent to injure you probably will – I doubt Patrice Cormier or Todd Bertuzzi expected to irradicate their opponent the way they did, but they meant to hurt them and definitely did, and in that, for the betterment of the sport, it should not be tolerated.
It’s one thing to hit and to fight within the rules, realize, it’s another thing to intentionally maim… let’s never find out what it is to kill under any circumstance. Patrice Cormier came pretty close to kill this time. Defending it is simply asking for death to send the sport into a worse scenario than where the strike left us less than a decade ago.