Canucks star charged with assault

Updated: June 25, 2004, 9:44 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- Canucks star Todd Bertuzzi was charged Thursday with assault for a sucker-punch that left Colorado's Steve Moore with a broken neck and prompted widespread criticism of hockey violence.

Todd Bertuzzi
Bertuzzi

The charges -- assault causing bodily harm -- were announced by the criminal justice branch of the ministry of the attorney general after an investigation that lasted four months. Bertuzzi was ordered to appear in provincial court July 9.

If found guilty, Bertuzzi could face a penalty ranging from prison to an absolute discharge with no criminal record. This depends on in which court the trial is heard, which could be determined by the Canadian police before the court appearance.

Bertuzzi could face a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison if the trial is held in B.C. Supreme Court. However, that penalty is usually reserved for only the worst cases involving repeat offenders and is highly unlikely in this incident.

If the case is heard in B.C. provincial court, the maximum penalty is 18 months to two years.

Moore was hospitalized after the March 8 attack with three fractured vertebrae, facial cuts, post-concussion symptoms and amnesia. Nerves in the neck area were also stretched.

Moore last met with the media March 29. It was not known then when, or if, the Colorado Avalanche center would play again. There have been no public updates since.

The NHL suspended Bertuzzi for the final 13 games of the regular season and Vancouver's seven playoff games, at a minimum.

The suspension has cost Bertuzzi nearly $502,000 of his $6.8 million salary and he was left off Canada's roster for this fall's World Cup. In addition, the Canucks were fined $250,000.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman plans to hold a hearing with the Vancouver star. Last month, Bettman gave no indication when that meeting might happen or if the indefinite suspension will be lifted.

The league issued a statement on Thursday regarding the legal developments.

"As we stated at the time the suspension was imposed, we believe the League rendered an appropriate decision, one that was stern and swift," said Bill Daly, the league's executive vice president and chief legal officer. "We did what we believe was right, for the players involved and the sport as a whole.

"We, therefore, would have preferred that the Crown not take this action. Having said that, the Vancouver authorities have made their decision and we remain committed to offering our full cooperation in any way we can."

Canucks general manager Dave Nonis said the team will "continue to support Todd and his family throughout this process," but had no further comment.

Avalanche president and general manager Pierre Lacroix said his team will cooperate with authorities if called on.

"A member of our organization was directly involved, and our main concern remains for him to fully recover," he said.

Bertuzzi's only public comment was a tearful apology two nights after the game.

"Steve, I just want to apologize for what happened out there," he said at the time. "I had no intention of hurting you. I feel awful for what transpired."

"I don't play the game that way," he added. "I'm not a mean-spirited person. I'm sorry for what happened."

During the game, with the Avalanche ahead 8-2, the 6-foot-3, 235-pound Bertuzzi grabbed Moore from behind at 8:41 of the third period. He sucker-punched the Colorado forward on the side of his head and then landed on top of the 6-foot-2, 205-pound Moore, driving his head into the ice.

Bertuzzi could get up to 1½ years in jail if tried in provincial court and up to 10 years if the case is heard in British Columbia Supreme Court. The government will choose the court.

The punch was witnessed by more than 18,000 people at the arena and has been shown repeatedly in TV clips broadcast across North America and Europe.

The attack was seen as retaliation for a hit Moore put on Vancouver star Markus Naslund that left the Canuck captain with a concussion and sidelined him for three games.

There is precedent for a hockey player facing charges for his on-ice action. In 2000, Marty McSorley was charged with hitting Canucks player Donald Brashear with his stick. McSorley was convicted of assault with a weapon, but he received an 18-month conditional discharge, meaning no jail time and no criminal record after probation. The NHL suspended him for a year, ending his 17-year career.

In 1988, Minnesota North Stars forward Dino Ciccarelli was convicted of assault for hitting Toronto defenseman Luke Richardson several times in the head with his stick. Ciccarelli was sentenced to one day in jail and fined.

In 1969, Wayne Maki of the St. Louis Blues and Ted Green of the Boston Bruins became the first NHL players sent to court after a stick-swinging duel at a preseason game in Ottawa. Green, who fractured his skull, and Maki, who wasn't injured, were both acquitted of assault charges.

Bertuzzi, one of the league's top forwards, had 17 goals and 43 assists in 69 games this season. Moore had five goals, seven assists in 57 games.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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