On Monday March 8, 2004, the Colorado Avalanche and the Vancouver Canucks faced off for the last time of the 2003-2004 season. The game was significant because in a previous game played on February 16, 2004, rookie Avalanche player Steve Moore laid an open ice hit on Canucks star Markus Naslund. Naslund was injured and missed the next few games, but Moore was not penalized.
Canucks Head Coach Marc Crawford on Steve Moore's hit:
“It just mystifies me that this happens in this League. They talk about players not having respect for players. Do they not have respect for the leading scorer in the league? When does that come? When does that come? It could have been an obstruction call, it could have been an elbowing call. It could have been anything. Instead, they call absolutely nothing. I have no idea. It was hard-fought game, nobody is talking about that but that was a cheap shot by a young kid on a captain, the leading scorer in the League and we get no call. We get no call. That is ridiculous. How does that happen? That’s got to be answered. Why is there no respect from those referees for the leading scorer in the League. I do not understand that for the life of me. I don’t care if they fine me, I really don’t. That needs to be answered.”
The Canucks vowed revenge for the hit. Brad May, a Canuck, went so far as to place a bounty on Moore's head. The next game between the two teams, played at the Pepsi Center in Denver, was attended by NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman just to make sure no funny business happened. Vancouver kept their hands off of the Avs and the two teams skated to a 5-5 tie.
The next game in the Colorado/Vancouver series, played at the GM Place was entirely different. The feelings on the ice were more aggressive. Not only would the game determine the Northwest division leader, but the bounty on Moore's head still stood.
After two fights to start of the game (Moore vs. Cooke and May vs. Worrell), Milan Hejduk started of the scoring at 6:54 in the first period. Then the Avalanche solidified their lead with three goals in 51 seconds, a franchise record (starting at 14:40 in the first by Steve Konowalchuk). Brad May, the goon for Vancouver scored the only two goals for his team. After each goal, May made his way back into the goal crease to shove and taunt Avalanche goalie David Aebischer, for which he was given a ten-minute penalty for misconduct.
The Avalanche continued to score and the tension continued to build until the third period, when Todd Bertuzzi went after Steve Moore. Bertuzzi felt that even though Moore had fought with Cooke earlier in the game, he deserved something more. After shadowing the rookie, Bertuzzi came up from behind and grabbed Moore's jersey, pulled him in close and landed a roundhouse right on the side of Moore's head. The hit knocked him unconscious and he was defenseless as Bertuzzi drove his head into the ice. A pileup of players landed on top of the two. Vancouver goaltender Johan Hedberg challenged David Aebischer, and various other scraps were started. Steve Moore lay in a pool of blood for several minutes before being carried off in a stretcher by medics.
Colorado Avalanche head coach Tony Granato was visibly upset. Backup goaltender Philippe Sauve had to hold Granato back as he screamed over the glass at the Canuck bench. The Avs coach later explained that not only was he angry at the disgusting diplay on the ice, but also at Marc Crawford's smirk he wore on the bench throughout the incident.
Avalanche Defenseman Derek Morris on the Todd Bertuzzi hit:
"It was disgusting. I haven't seen anything like that in my seven years of playing hockey. This was premeditated; this was the worst thing I've seen."
Moore suffered fractures in his C3 and C4 vertebrae, a concussion, and deep cuts in his face. He did not have any spinal cord damage or paralyzation and was talking with teammates in the hospital after the game. Bertuzzi was assessed a match penalty for attempting to injure a player. He was automatically suspended pending a hearing, which was held on Wednesday March 10, 2004. During the hour-long hearing in Toronto, Bertuzzi and NHL vice president Colin Campbell discussed the hit and watched a video replay of it. The next day, Campbell ruled that Bertuzzi was to be suspended for the rest of the regular season and the playoffs, and must ask for reinstatement at the beginning of the 2004-2005 season. The Vancouver Canucks were also fined $250,000 on top of the $500,000 of Bertuzzi's salary they were required to forfeit.
NHL vice president Colin Campbell:
"We dealt with Todd Bertuzzi like we would any other player in this situation. Because Todd Bertuzzi is the impact player he is, the ramifications and severity of this will definitely affect and hurt the Vancouver Canucks' chances of being successful in the playoffs."
Vancouver police are also investigating whether to pursue criminal charges on Bertuzzi for the hit. The whole situation has been compared to the incident involving Marty McSorley and then-Canuck Donald Brashear. McSorley smashed Brashear on the side of the head with his hockey stick, which gave him a concussion after he hit the ice without his helmet. McSorley was charged with assault with a weapon in a Vancouver court, receiving an 18-month conditional discharge. The incident ended McSorley's career after he was suspended for a year and never signed by another team.
Fans around Colorado and the NHL showed deep concern for the injured Moore and gave their support by emailing local newspapers and creating numerous get-well cards that were scattered around the city of Denver. A local television station's website set up a place for fans to include their words of encouragement for the injured Moore. Bertuzzi responded to the media with a tearful apology, but many found it hard to find sympathy for the Canuck.
Todd Bertuzzi's first comments to the media after the hit:
"This comment's for Steve:
Steve I just want to apologize for what happened out there. But I had no intention of hurting you. And I feel awful for what transpired.
Sorry that you had to go through this. And I’m sorry again, about what happened out there.
I’m relieved to hear that Steve’s gonna have a full recovery. It means a lot to me to hear that that’s gonna happen. I wanna apologize to Mr. Burke and Mr. McCaw, the Vancouver Canucks organization, and my teammates.
To the fans of hockey and the fans of Vancouver, for the kids who watch this game:
I’m truly sorry. I don’t play the game that way, I’m not a mean-spirited person. And I’m sorry for what happened."
As a result of the incident, Bertuzzi was charged in British Columbia, Canada with assault. He pleaded guilty to the charge and was sentenced to a year of probation and 80 hours of community service, but received a conditional discharge, leaving him without a criminal record. Bertuzzi was suspended from the NHL indefinitely, which included the remaining 13 regular season games and all playoffs of the 2003-2004 season. Bertuzzi was reinstated for the 2005-2006 season after being ineligible to play in Europe during the lockout. Steve Moore filed a civil lawsuit in a Denver court on February 15, 2005. Named in the suit were Bertuzzi, Brad May, Marc Crawford, former Canucks GM Brian Burke, Orca Bay Sports and Entertainment, owner of the team. The lawsuit, which sought unspecified damages from the defendants, was thrown out when the judge handling the case cited that it had no bearing in Colorado.
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