- Terry Frei, Special to ESPN.com
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Team Canada had it coming.
When hockey fans, whether Canadian, American or Luxembourgian, contacted Hockey Canada to remark upon the selection of a certain player to the Team Canada's Olympic roster, they received a polite reply from Hockey Canada president Bob Nicholson.
Passing e-mail around usually is boorish, but this was a mass form response that has made the rounds.
"We appreciate your comments and interest in Canada's Olympic Men's Team.
"The management team that selected the Men's Olympic Team believes unanimously that Todd Bertuzzi deserves the opportunity to represent Canada at the upcoming Winter Olympic Games and believes that his inclusion, along with the other 25 players named, gives Canada its best chance at defending Olympic gold.
"While his actions on the ice over twenty months ago were unfortunate and unacceptable, Hockey Canada believes that the suspension that the NHL imposed and Bertuzzi's exclusion from international competitions by Hockey Canada for a year and a half have been a just punishment.
"Hockey Canada also believes that people deserve second chances, and that Todd has demonstrated through his play this season and his community involvement in Vancouver that he warrants the opportunity to demonstrate his pride of being Canadian. … Todd and his teammates with Canada's Men's Olympic Hockey Team look forward to making all Canadians proud with a display of talent, skill and effort that will bring another gold medal back to Canada."
Wednesday will be the second anniversary of Bertuzzi's mugging of Colorado center Steve Moore.
The 27-year-old Moore has been skating and working out, sometimes at Harvard University, but because of lingering post-concussion symptoms still hasn't been cleared for contact by doctors at the Cleveland Clinic and couldn't pass a physical, even if an NHL team wanted to sign him.
And he's suing Bertuzzi, literally all over the place.
His suit against Bertuzzi, the Canucks, Brian Burke, Marc Crawford and Brad May was tossed out last fall for jurisdictional reasons by Denver district court judge Shelley Gilman, but an appeal is pending in the Colorado Court of Appeals. So while this hasn't been mentioned in most accounts, there's an outside chance the suit could be reinstated.
Meanwhile, Moore's legal team has filed a backup suit in Toronto, getting in ahead of the two-year deadline, and again basing the timing on the premise that the roots of the attack were in the Feb. 16, 2004, game in Denver, when Moore knocked Markus Naslund out of the lineup with an open-ice hit.
In Ontario, Moore is asking for $19.5 million from Bertuzzi, plus from the Canucks and the team's owner, Orca Bay. And at one point, it even seemed possible Moore's lawyers also could file a backup suit in British Columbia, at least in advance of the second anniversary of the infamous General Motors Place game.
The NHL clearly just hopes Moore goes away, that judges continue to toss out the suits, and that the game, and not just Bertuzzi and the Canucks, doesn't have to go on trial.
If a case were on the verge of going to trial somewhere, the NHL ultimately would encourage or broker a settlement. Can you imagine poor saps, such as trainers and equipment men, being called to the stand and asked to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth about what they heard and saw?
Or more to the point, the NHL (and that includes his Avalanche teammates, who have acted as if Moore were a poker player who got up from the table) and Hockey Canada wanted to forget all about Steve Moore.
This is not intended to pick on Bertuzzi, or even directly blame him for Team Canada's half of the North American hockey flop in Torino. That was a total team effort, if the "team" includes Wayne Gretzky, Pat Quinn and the others involved in the selection process who saw nothing wrong with courting bad karma and sending the wrong messages by selecting Bertuzzi.
(I probably should be careful there, because some U.S. mall-rat-turned-visionary might have just read "hockey flop" and decided to propose it as another of those trash sports Americans get in the Olympics so we can win medals. "Hockey flop" could be hockey played on luges.)
I also should point out the hypocrisy in Denver, where Bertuzzi remains derided and booed, but where only spoilsports have groused about the Denver Nuggets' acquisition of guard Ruben Patterson, a registered sex offender following his plea bargain in a Seattle third-degree attempted rape case. Yes, Patterson also has paid his price within the parameters of the legal system, as Bertuzzi did in the criminal case in British Columbia. That needs to be respected, in both instances. That doesn't have to extend to ignoring Patterson's past or sweeping it under the rug (as some in the media have done), or giving him rousing welcoming ovations. Say what you will about Bertuzzi's doing something heinous and stupid in anger during a game, but it isn't in the same realm as sexual assault.
Debating whether Bertuzzi should have been reinstated when he was, or whether Moore has violated a tacit implied-consent agreement to leave everything at the rink, is at least secondary -- and probably irrelevant -- at this point. For the record, I'm ambivalent about both those matters, and have said so. Suffice to say that whenever I admit that, some responses are of the "Free Todd/Moore-had-it-coming" foaming-at-the-mouth school of mindlessness, many sound like Nicholson's letter, and many say I'm as bad as Bertuzzi for even acknowledging there was an argument to be made for his being allowed back in the game. Ever.
But the pertinent point now is that Bertuzzi's selection to the Olympics is indicative of a mind-set that helped diminish Canada's chances in Torino. It was a mockery of the Olympic ideal, and the fact that it gets mocked plenty is no excuse. It sent that inappropriate message to young players in a nation in which Hockey Canada's terrific ads promote the concept that it's only a game, opponents must be respected, and parents need not act like all games are Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals.
Under the circumstances, Bertuzzi should have been left off the team, and if that meant having a skater in the lineup who actually could have scored a goal in the final three games, such as Sidney Crosby, Eric Staal or Alex Tanguay, and one who wouldn't have taken a lunkhead penalty at a crucial moment, it would have been a bonus.
(It also would have been interesting if Steve Moore had been cleared to play, and if his brother, Dominic of the Rangers, had cut through all the red tape and used the Moores' dual Canadian-Italian citizenships to play for Italy in the Olympics.)
I've been a bit bemused by the parroting in the U.S. of the notion that there needed to be suicide watches on all Canadian bridges following Team Canada's quarterfinal loss and the idea that the media angst and criticism north of the border was indicative of a pervasive mind-set. The U.S. media contributes to the misconceptions because Canada is far more eclectic and thoughtful than that. This isn't a tragedy in Canada, at least not for the rank and file, intelligent and reasonable.
Having Todd Bertuzzi on the team should have been more of a disgrace than the team's performance.
Terry Frei is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. He is the author of "Third Down and a War to Go" and "Horns, Hogs, and Nixon Coming."
Steve Moore and Todd Bertuzzi are still living with the ramifications of March 8, 2004. Terry Frei gives us his perspective as the second anniversary approaches.