Cormier's punishment fit crime, why pile on?
By Pat Martin, Contributing Hockey Editor
(Sports Network) - Physicality and borderline dirty plays have always been parts of hockey - and probably always will be.
Some argue that's what makes the game great.
Others contend the game is about speed and skill, and the 'goonish' element needs to go.
No matter what side of the fence you're on, the scene at a Quebec Major Junior Hockey League game early this year that saw an 18-year-old convulsing on the ice after taking a blatant elbow to the face from an opponent was enough to make you sick.
The scene in question occurred in January when forward Patrice Cormier elbowed defenseman Mikael Tam, who was hospitalized with brain trauma and damage to several teeth after the hit. Tam eventually returned to junior hockey this season, but Cormier did not after being suspended for the remainder of the season and playoffs.
Cormier did return to ice hockey in the American League after his junior team's season ended, playing nine games for the Chicago Wolves, who were eliminated from the Calder Cup playoffs on Tuesday night by the Texas Stars.
But the story doesn't end there.
The 6-foot-2, 205-pounder, currently an NHL prospect in the Atlanta Thrashers organization, faces an assault charge in Canadian Court stemming from the on-ice incident, a charge that was made official just hours before the game-seven matchup with the Stars. The 19-year-old now faces up to 18 months in jail if convicted.
There is precedent for this type of criminal charge in Canada.
Todd Bertuzzi, then with the Vancouver Canucks, was suspended for 17 months by the NHL after a blindside sucker punch to the head of former Colorado Avalanche forward Steve Moore in 2004. Moore suffered three broken vertebra in his neck and a high grade concussion, ending his hockey career.
Bertuzzi was charged in Vancouver, resulting in a guilty plea, one year of probation, and 80 hours of community service.
The difference in Cormier's case is the age of the combatants and the severity of the injuries. The Bertuzzi/Moore incident was between two professionals in their 20s, one of whom could not return to the ice. The Cormier/Tam incident was between two amateurs in their teens, and Tam was able to return to action this season, actually serving his own suspension for an illegal hit.
"The incident itself, I really don't talk about it a lot," Cormier told The Sports Network last week. "It's in the past. It happened, it was a mistake. Anyone who knows me knows that I never meant for it to happen. I was going to finish my hit and I maybe went a little too far. That's just the way I play. I'm not dirty, but I finish my hits, and if I want to be successful in hockey, that's one thing I need to keep doing."
While some argue he shouldn't have been allowed to play in the AHL this season, others contend he served his suspension and paid a steep price for his "crime" already.
"I don't think anybody [in the AHL] has any real negative feelings about him," Chicago Wolves GM Wendell Young told The Sports Network last week. "He paid the price. He was suspended and missed a lot of hockey this past year because of the incident."
Cormier doesn't seem to have a black mark in NHL front offices either, as the Thrashers made him part of the bounty they acquired from the New Jersey Devils in the blockbuster Ilya Kovalchuk deal on Feb. 4. Further dispelling any character issues is the fact that Cormier was the captain of Canada's silver medal winning World Junior team in 2010.
Now, the debate: should Cormier have to face a criminal charge for an on-ice incident?
Those who know hockey acknowledge that these incidents happen; sometimes players go too far. Is charging players involved in these type of incidents with crimes the answer, or is a lengthy suspension from the sport they love enough? Judging from Cormier's recent comments to The Sports Network, the latter holds true in this case.
"I have learned that you have to be careful out there," he said. "You have seen many times this year that guys have been taking hits to the head and it's pretty dangerous. When it happens to you, when you hit a guy, you learn to be a little more careful, for sure."
"The one good thing for me was seeing Michael Tam returning to hockey this year," Cormier said. "When he was all right and played, everything was done for me. The main thing for me was him returning healthy and 100 percent.
"Now I'm back playing hockey and it's all behind me. A lot of people learned from this, but now it's behind us and we're stronger and we're going to move forward."
Seems like the lesson was learned, but that's up to the bureaucrats to decide when Cormier is due in court on July 12.
05/12 18:19:38 ET