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Punch Restarts Debate on Violence in NHL
Todd Bertuzzi's suspension until at least next season reopened the debate over whether fighting should be banned by the NHL.
Colin Campbell, the league's chief disciplinarian, couldn't escape the topic Thursday after punishing the Vancouver Canucks' All-Star forward.
"Fighting in the game of hockey has been there. And maybe, at some point in time, it will be banned," Campbell said. "But right now, it's part of the game and accepted to the point where it's penalized. ... This isn't the place to debate that."
Bertuzzi was suspended through the playoffs -- and perhaps longer -- for his vicious attack that sent Colorado's Steve Moore to the hospital with a broken neck, concussion and other injuries.
The Canucks were fined $250,000 for the attack, which is being investigated by police, and took place near the end of Vancouver's 9-2 loss on Monday.
Campbell also made the distinction that Bertuzzi's actions were not the result of a fight, noting that the Moore was attacked from behind and eventually sent crashing headfirst into the ice.
Others, including Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin, expressed their concerns for hockey's violent reputation.
"I think that Canadians feel that there is a problem with hockey, there's a problem with violence in sports and that it should be dealt with," Martin said, during a visit to London, Ontario. "I'd certainly say (to professional hockey), `Clean up your act.'"
Earlier in the day, The Globe and Mail, a Toronto-based national newspaper, wrote, "It's time to ban fighting in the NHL," in its lead editorial.
And the top headline on the front of The Toronto Star's sports section read: "Does someone have to die?"
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman referred to Bertuzzi's suspension as "stern, harsh and quick." And he hoped the severity of the punishment will stem whatever criticism that's been directed at the league.
"I think we will ultimately be judged on our response and the message that it sends," Bettman said. "This is not a part of our game, it has no place in our game, and it will not be tolerated in our game."
Moore, lost for the season, has deep cuts on his face and two broken vertebra, but his spinal cord was not injured. He's in stable condition in a Vancouver hospital.
"I'm convinced the league was careful to take into account all the elements and acted with a clear sense of what was fair for all parties involved," Avalanche general manager Pierre Lacroix said. "Steve Moore's complete recovery continues to be our main concern."
Canucks center Trevor Linden said the criticism directed at Bertuzzi has been too harsh.
"It's ridiculous," Linden said. "Players make mistakes on the ice. And by no means I'm saying it shouldn't be punished, there's no question. But everything that's being said is way over the top."
Bertuzzi issued a teary apology Wednesday night, but he didn't want to speak publicly after the suspension was announced.
"These comments are for Steve. I had no intention of hurting you," Bertuzzi said. "I feel awful for what transpired."
The attack appeared to be payback for Moore's Feb. 16 hit on Canucks captain Markus Naslund, who got a concussion and missed three games. Both teams were warned by the league not to retaliate.
Bertuzzi is one of the league's top power forwards, who finished third in the NHL in scoring last season and ranks second on the Canucks this season with 17 goals and 43 assists.
The suspension could end up being one of the harshest in NHL history, and could extend into next season. Bertuzzi's reinstatement must be approved by Bettman.
At the minimum, Bertuzzi will miss Vancouver's final 13 regular-season games this season and four more if the Canucks -- currently fourth in the Western Conference -- make the playoffs and are swept in a first-round series.
The previous record suspension was 23 games, for Boston's Marty McSorley in February 2000, and Tampa Bay's Gordie Dwyer in September 2000.