To further illustrate how unparalleled the emotions of NHL hockey are compared to those of other professional sports, consider the retirements of Michael Jordan and Wayne Gretzky. Both are considered, arguably, the greatest athlete ever in their respective sport.
When Jordan retired in January of 1999, albeit the second time, there was the expected fanfare, however the event was somewhat marred by questions regarding why he was retiring, “what ifs” and speculation that he would end up playing somewhere else.
When Gretzky called it a career in April of the same year, the league had a pre-game ceremony that was shown live in other arenas around the league. On hand to pay honor to him were former teammates, rivals and coaches.
When the game had ended, Gretzky, fighting back tears, skated laps around the rink for more than ten minutes, showing appreciation to those in attendance and to those watching the live telecast. Afterwards, Gretzky sat in the dressing room long after the game was over, answering questions, not wanting to take his uniform off. McSorley played a very emotional sport.
Because hockey is such an emotional sport, tempers do flare and players do lose their composure. Perhaps, that is what happened with McSorley on February 21, 2000. It is hard to tell what goes through someone’s head the moment they do something as irrational as McSorley did. However, no matter what the motivation or reason for his action, he did hit Brashear over the head that evening and was punished for it by the NHL in a quick a decisive manner.
This is how the how the league handled violent acts earlier in the season and it is how the league has traditionally dealt out suspensions for all on-ice incidents. It should be should be noted that 15 days after McSorley’s episode with Brashear, prosecutors in British Columbia issued criminal charges. This type of thing is not something new to the NHL.
Prior to McSorley’s suspension, there had been 29 suspensions during the 1999-2000 NHL season. The reasons varied from slashing and spearing to the popular butt-ending. The suspensions ranged in length from one game to ten.
Interestingly enough, earlier in the year, Brashear was one of the culprits suspended for wrongdoings. He received a two game unpaid vacation for checking from behind. Historically, NHL tough guys occasionally get carried away and commit violent acts. This season was no different and like other seasons, league officials have delivered disciplinary actions swiftly and evenly. McSorley’s was the longest, not only this year, but ever in the league’s history.
Before McSorley, the longest NHL suspension was 21 games. The Washington Capitol’s Dale Hunter held that distinction for assaulting the Islander’s Pierre Tugeon during a playoff game in 1993.
The earliest suspension of significance went to Boston’s legendary Eddie Shore. In December of 1933 he received a one-month suspension for hitting the Maple Leaf’s Ace Bailey from behind. It would be nearly 36 years before a punishment of that magnitude would be issued again.
In September of 1969, Wayne Maki of the St. Louis Blues and the Bruin’s Ted Green were involved in a wild stick swinging melee. For their indiscretions, Maki received a one-month suspension and Green, 13 games and a metal plate in his head.
As stated earlier, McSorley isn’t the first hockey player to have criminal charges brought against them, just the most recent. Maki and Green were both charged and subsequently acquitted of assault charges for their fracas in 1969.
Another case had Boston Bruin Dave Forbes accused of using excessive force against the North Star’s Henry Boucha. The 1975 trial ended in a hung jury. The prosecution in the case sought no retrial.
The most recent case, prior to McSorley’s, that involved the criminal justice system, was that of Minnesota’s Dino Ciccarelli in 1988. He spent one day in jail and was fined $1000 for hitting Maple Leaf Luke Richardson several times in the head with his stick. Obviously, the NHL has had its’ share of violent on-ice incidents and the consequences that have accompanied them.
Though the media might lead you to believe it, the NHL is not the only professional sport with such occurrences. This is hardly the case. Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association and the National Football League have call had their share of violent exploits that have occurred during their respective games and have dealt with them accordingly. For every Marty McSorley, there is a Juan Marichal, a Latrell Sprewell or a Mark Carrier.
On Monday, in the conclusion of “The Punishment Fits the Crime”, I will give examples of extreme violence in each of the other three major professional sports. Until then…from the booth.