VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- Todd Bertuzzi of the Vancouver Canucks pleaded not guilty Thursday to an assault charge stemming from a hit on Steve Moore during a game that left the Colorado Avalanche forward with a broken neck.
Bertuzzi appeared in court for 10 minutes and did not speak as he left with his wife in a limousine. His four words in court -- "Not guilty, your honor" -- were his first public utterances since March when he tearfully apologized for his actions.
Bertuzzi was charged with assault causing bodily harm on June 24 after punching Moore from behind and then crashing onto the ice on top of him during the March 8 game. Moore was left with a broken neck and concussion. Bertuzzi was suspended indefinitely by the NHL and missed 20 games.
The two sides return to court Wednesday to try to set a trial date. There will be no preliminary hearing, and the trial will be by judge alone. The maximum penalty Bertuzzi faces is 18 months.
Government lawyer Garth Loeppky told the court he would call several players as witnesses, though he didn't say which ones. League and game officials and medical staff also will be called. Video evidence will be presented during the trial, which is expected to last three weeks.
Avalanche spokesman Hayne Ellis said Thursday Moore's status is unchanged and he's still undergoing rehabilitation.
"He has not been medically cleared for anything," said Ellis, adding Moore, an unrestricted free agent, was dividing his time recently between Denver and Massachusetts for his rehabilitation.
Avalanche captain Joe Sakic expressed regret the case was going to court.
"In my opinion, I don't think it should be in the courts," Sakic said from training camp in Ottawa, where the Canadian team is training for the World Cup of Hockey. "They should let the league handle it."
Ed Jovanovski, another Team Canada player and a Bertuzzi teammate, added: "We're all supporting Todd. I've said from Day 1 I think the league has done a good enough job policing the game and I think what Todd has faced is severe enough, missing the last handful of games and missing the playoffs."
Bertuzzi's plea came the same day an American Hockey League player was charged in Hamilton, Ontario, in a stick-swinging play that left his opponent convulsing on the ice. Hamilton Bulldogs forward Alexander Perezhogin used his stick like a baseball bat on the face of Cleveland Barons forward Garrett Stafford in an April game. Stafford sustained a concussion and needed 20 stitches for the gash on his face.
Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press
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