'It seems there's a need to get even'

Updated: March 24, 2004, 2:03 PM ET
By Jim Kelley | ESPN.com

As usual in sports, when something ugly happens, the shouting eventually dies down, the pointing fingers are put away and the media turns its attention to the next big thing.

That would certainly appear to be the case regarding the Todd Bertuzzi-Steve Moore incident. What had quickly risen to the level of an international debate, the result of the well-known Bertuzzi sucker-punching Moore and bull-riding him into the ice where he suffered two broken vertebrae in his neck, has given way to the more mundane things that are supposedly not part of the NHL's game.

Things like St. Louis' Chris Pronger kicking and cutting Calgary's Ville Nieminen on Sunday night (a one-game suspension) and like Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff on Monday charging Toronto forward Joe Nieuwendyk with being "gutless" for a caught-on-tape head slam that left a prone and helmet-less Chris Drury with a concussion (no suspension).

Steve Moore
Dryden said the hit on Steve Moore "almost was like someone being hunted down."
In some ways it's to be expected. The NHL has thrown the proverbial blanket over the Bertuzzi affair, and understandably so, given that a) it's a definite black mark on the game; and b) if you want something to go away, the quickest way to make it happen is to stop talking about it; and c) because with the possibility of both civil and criminal charges in its future, a certain amount of silence is both the wise and prudent thing to do.

But at some point this matter will -- actually must -- pass from the hands of crime investigators, judges and lawyers and back to the administrators of the game itself.

When it does, Ken Dryden is asking that hockey have a plan. And that is no small thing.

Dryden is not only a vice chairman with Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment in Toronto, but also a lawyer, a social commentator, a former NHL goaltender, a hockey administrator, a former Youth Commissioner for the Province of Ontario, a prolific author and a man who moves comfortably and ably on both sides of the US-Canadian border.

While he is a Canadian by birth, Dryden is also a graduate of Cornell University (the same upstate New York school that produced NHL commissioner Gary Bettman). He understands both the physical border that separates Canada and the Unites States and the cultural one that often confuses people on either side. Dryden is also a hero in Canada for his exploits in goal with the Montreal Canadiens, but he's almost as well known in the U.S. for his work as a TV analyst (he was on the broadcast of the "Miracle on Ice" game at the 1980 Olympics at Lake Placid) and his definitive book about hockey in Canada, "The Game."

With that kind of background, Dryden brings a perspective about both the business and the emotion of hockey that is too often lost both within the game and especially on the American public.

And Dryden is calling for change.

Though he declined to be interviewed for this column (a team spokesman said he was preparing an in-depth response about the state of hockey Wednesday and would bring it forth at an appropriate time), Dryden may have already lit a fuse that could very well spark some controversy and, perhaps, bring forth change.

In a measured yet passionate response to the criticism leveled at the game from points all over the globe, Dryden took to the airwaves of the Canadian Broadcasting Company recently and sketched out some thoughts that should cause hockey to at least look at itself in a way other than the usual state of denial. He offered a well-reasoned explanation of a game in trouble, one in which he sees players being in danger for their health, well being and perhaps even their very lives.

Most importantly, he did not sugarcoat it.

"I think, at the very least, what we need to do is take a good, big look at the whole of the game," he said.

"I think that in the NHL we've done a lousy job in terms of approaching things in this sort of a way. We think the only issue is the CBA (the soon-to-expire collective bargaining agreement between the players association and the league), but there is a much bigger issue than that and that has to do with the nature of the game, and surely we have a responsibility to the game and not just the way it's played at the NHL level."

Dryden said his lasting impression of the Bertuzzi was both the ferocity of the attack and, ultimately, the unfairness of it.

"I guess what was most lasting to me is the image of the moment," he said. "Really, it's almost like someone being hunted down, and I thought how uncomfortable an image that was. You could see Steve Moore, who wasn't expecting anything to happen and who had no reason to expect anything to happen, and you could see Todd Bertuzzi coming in from behind. & It was a little like a National Geographic Special, like watching the lion and the antelope and how unfair it was & the position that Steve Moore was in and that he had absolutely no idea what was going to happen next."

Dryden has some experience in these matters. He once headed a panel and authored a report regarding a similar incident where players attacked an on-ice official in a minor-level hockey game.

In the report Dryden made mention of what he called a "stupid point" and how four people in that incident reached one and the result was hideous violence that few people saw coming.

"I think we've all got one (a stupid point)," he said, "and we all reach it lots of times, and I think part of the question is, 'What things end up generating a stupid point a little bit sooner?' I think part of it is that kind of mentality, the understanding that we have of getting even. We all feel it at times and we all want to do it, but the question is how do we do it?

"Most of the time, we do it in pretty constructive ways. The way we always hear about it as kids and we did it as kids is we get even on the scoreboard. We did it in that way, but we've changed what 'get even' means now and it often isn't even getting even yourself. We've got people who are pretty much expert at getting even and we've got them on each team. And when something happens, then it becomes their job to go out and 'get even' and even when it's kind of manufactured, a little bit unreal. It used to be when something was a good hit, a clean hit or an accidental hit that it was, well, mostly good for you. Yeah, you would find a way of getting even in a certain sort of way, but there was a little bit of respect for the fact that in fact you got the upper hand at that particular moment. Now whether it's accidental or something happened in the past or whatever it is, there is a need to get even.

What I'm afraid of is with the way the game is going in this way, that it makes it a little more disconnected with the public mood, with the way we see ourselves as Canadians, and we've always seen ourselves as mirrored pretty well in hockey. ... But what we're asking now of those players in terms of the pace, the size, the 82 games, the four rounds of playoffs and all the rest is requiring a freakish load in regards to pain threshold, and that's a disconnection and that's a real problem.
Ken Dryden

"Now it seems there's a need to get even in regards to a sense of loss of face if you've been hit in some hard way & a sense of humiliation, of embarrassment. And, of course, then the emotions escalate and it turns into something that is resentment, revenge, and it becomes motivation and it becomes easy to reach that 'stupid point.' "

Dryden argues that there is a sense of frontier justice in today's world, and that it's a part of what we see happening in sport and that it disturbs us.

"That's part of it," he said in referring to some elements of life, especially the revenge elements, being mirrored in games.

"Part of what disturbs us is we don't like to see things mirrored back on us, especially in something like sport. Sports is something that we like to think of as separate.

"There were parts of the '70s (when Dryden played) that were awful where in fact fighting became an instrument of intimidation, an instrument of winning, but I think in general it's a more dangerous game now and not because of the fighting.

"I don't happen to like fighting. I think it's stupid, but I don't think it's particularly dangerous, but there are a lot of things that do happen on the ice that are dangerous. A lot of things have happened in 10 years, 20 years or 40 and 50 years and you say, 'don't change the game,' that this is a part of the tradition of the game, but one of the things is the size of the players.

"In 1952, the average NHL player was 5-10 3/4 and 175 pounds, Today that same player is 6-1, 204, not that much taller but 29 pounds heavier and not just 29 pounds heavier, but the players in 1952 were on the ice for two minutes at a time or more, and they were playing at a coasting pace. Today they are out there for 40 seconds, and they are playing at a sprinting pace. One thing I remember about high school physics is that F (force) is equal to MA (mass x acceleration), and you've got the mass of 29 pounds more and you have the acceleration that is greater, and that force is going to be a whole lot greater in terms of those collisions. We've got a whole lot of more injuries than we used to have, more dangerous injuries, and it's not just bad luck, but we've seen it treated as if it's bad luck.

"Equipment helps to some extent, but it also makes us feel more invulnerable."

Dryden said that NHL people are starting to figure that injuries are just a basic fact of life in the game, but he argues that they don't have to be quite such a fact of life.

"What I'm afraid of is with the way the game is going in this way, that it makes it a little more disconnected with the public mood, with the way we see ourselves as Canadians, and we've always seen ourselves as mirrored pretty well in hockey. One of the things that hockey always had going for it is that where in football and basketball it took a freakish size in order to play those kinds of games -- and that's why we couldn't see ourselves in those games -- we could always see ourselves in hockey.

"But it may be that what we're asking now of those players in terms of the pace, the size, the 82 games, the four rounds of playoffs and all the rest is requiring a freakish load in regards to pain threshold, and that's a disconnection and that's a real problem."

That is one of several real problems.

If you accept the premise that what happened in "the Bertuzzi incident" is not an isolated incident, Dryden has an irrefutable point -- there is a danger in the game, a potentially lethal danger.

There may be people who don't want to hear it. Worse, there may be people who don't want to deal with it, but if hockey is to ever better itself, ever to become the game that those of us who love it have always hoped and dreamed it should be, then voices like Dryden's must be heard.

The voice of change is out there. The question now is: Is anyone willing to listen?

Jim Kelley is the NHL writer for ESPN.com. Submit questions or comments to his mail bag.

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