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Hockey Injury

“I’m Sorry Sir, You’ll Never Play Contact Hockey Again”

March 8, 2004. To many, this may seem like just an ordinary day. But to Steve Moore, this is the day that changed his life forever.

Moore laced up his skates at General Motors Place (now known as Rogers Arena) in downtown Vancouver, British Columbia. His Colorado Avalanche were in the middle of a tight playoff race, and every man on Moore’s team knew they needed to escape Vancouver with a win in order to keep pace with other teams in the NHL’s Western Conference. The Avalanche did just that, and after a five-goal first period, blew the Canucks out of the water with a dominant 9-2 victory. Seems like a happy ending for Moore and the Avalanche, right? Well, not so much.

Steve Moore with the Colorado Avalanche / CBS Sports

The game was a fight-filled affair, and with the Canucks trailing 5-0 after the first period, the game quickly got out of hand. Moore was penalized in the first period for fighting Canuck Matt Cooke and for the rest of the game, Canucks enforcer Todd Bertuzzi was out for his head. Just a few weeks prior, Moore was not penalized for a controversial hit to the head on Canucks captain Markus Naslund. After being unsuccessful multiple times in the third period to pick a fight with Moore, Bertuzzi eventually grabbed Moore by the back of his jersey and gave him one hard sucker punch to the jaw, driving Moore face-first into the solid ice with Bertuzzi landing on top of him. Bertuzzi continued to give Moore multiple blows to the back of the head as he lay face-down on the ice unconscious, and other players on the ice leaping on top of Bertuzzi and Moore to stick up for their teammates.

The play resulted in Steve Moore leaving the ice via stretcher surrounded by medical professionals. He was taken to Vancouver General Hospital and later transferred to a hospital in Denver, where he was treated for multiple injuries that included amnesia and a grade-three concussion, three fractured vertebrae in his neck, vertebral ligament damage and facial lacerations. Todd Bertuzzi was assessed a match penalty and was automatically ejected from the game. He was ultimately suspended by the NHL for the remainder of the Canucks’ season and ended up forfeiting just over $500,000 in salary, and the Canucks organization was fined $250,000. Steve Moore was eventually told by doctors that he would never be able to play contact hockey again.

To view the full incident, click here.

Todd Bertuzzi with the Vancouver Canucks / ProAmSports.ca

The now infamous act, known to hockey fans as the “Bertuzzi-Moore Incident,” has continuously raised concerns from hockey teams across the globe about the safety of its players. Since the Bertuzzi-Moore Incident, the NHL’s Department of Player Safety has cracked down and added stricter rules and harsher penalties, to ensure that plays like this do not happen again. But, can this only do so much? I mean, after all, players will just serve their suspensions and then go back to playing their usual aggressive style of hockey, won’t they? Maybe we should just eliminate fighting from the game of hockey, that should solve everything!

Well, yes and no. With the start of a new NHL season slated to begin on Wednesday, it’s time to bring up the age-old debate about whether or not fighting should be removed from hockey.

Fighting has been a part of the game of hockey since the beginning of time. One could even call it a tradition. For as long as all of us can remember, players who drop their sticks and remove their gloves and helmets to lay a beating on one another have only been punished by serving five minutes in the penalty box. Once the five minutes expire, the players are released from the penalty box and engage back into the play as if it never happened. Sometimes, the same player will even be involved in multiple fights per game. For hockey fans, it’s fun and entertaining. For health specialists, it’s a huge concern.

Edmonton Oilers’ Darnell Nurse exchanges fists with Ottawa Senators’ Max McCormick / USATSI

Hockey is a rough sport. It always has been, and it always will be. Hockey players are known around the world for their toughness and strength. But there are so many dangers surrounding the sport, more than what one may think.

Once you remove your helmet, you are exposing yourself to several different types of head trauma. For example, perhaps your helmet falls off after taking a hit along the boards, but instead of rushing off the ice to the safety of the player’s bench, you are still engaged in the play because your team may be in a situation (like a penalty kill) that would put them in jeopardy if you were to leave. During the same play, you take a puck to the face. Or let’s say you remove your helmet to participate in a fight, you will most likely be receiving multiple blows to the head. Maybe during the same fight, you fall and hit your head on the solid ice, causing even more head trauma.

If you remove fighting from the game of hockey, I think we can all agree by saying there would be fewer concussions and head injuries throughout the league. But it would be ludicrous to state that it would put an end to head injuries in hockey altogether.

Photo detailing what causes a concussion / Penn Medicine

I myself was told by a doctor that I will be unable to play contact hockey again. This is due to six concussions that I have incurred by playing the sport that I love so much. But despite my six concussions, not one of them was from being involved in a fight. In fact, I have never been involved in a hockey fight in my life. There are many other alternatives for receiving a concussion in hockey. All six of mine were from being hit into the boards in awkward ways. Finally, in my senior year of high school, I was hit into the boards from behind so hard that, like Steve Moore, I was stretchered off the ice and taken the hospital for a grade-two concussion and cracked vertebrae in my neck. That game was the last game of contact hockey I have ever played.

So, should fighting be removed from the sport of hockey? Perhaps, but it still won’t change the fact that head injuries, and injuries in general, are still bound to happen. The potential of injury is something that every professional athlete signs up for when they sign their big-league contract.

In Steve Moore’s case, yes, it was completely avoidable. Todd Bertuzzi expressed copious amounts of remorse and apologies. Bertuzzi did not go into that game planning the end someone else’s career. No professional athlete ever wants to see that happen. Will it change the fact that Moore will never play again? No, but we can prevent incidents like this from happening in the future.

All it takes is to be a smart athlete. Go into your game with your sights set on winning and providing the best possible support you can for your team. Of course, there’s going to be contact and there’s going to be an enormous amount of compete in everyone on the playing field, but that’s sports. Who doesn’t like a little competition now and then? We just need to be smart and use our heads, before we are unable to use them altogether. Everyone only gets one brain. Use it wisely.

Featured photo courtesy of the Vancouver Sun

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