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Less Than Murder: An Inside Look

Click here for more on this story

Posted: Thursday March 18, 1999 10:05 AM

  After tussling over a loose puck in the corner, Boulerice (white jersey) took a baseball swing at Long (black jersey). The ref didn't see him do it, but it was captured on video.

This week Sports Illustrated examines a 1998 incident in the Ontario Hockey League, in which one player deliberately smashed his stick into another player's face. CNN/SI presents an interview with writer Jeff MacGregor, as well as videotaped evidence of what the OHL calls the Jesse Boulerice-Andrew Long Matter.

Video (800k) | Excerpt from SI
MacGregor on violence (384k)

CNN/SI: How far removed is this from the almost routine stick-swinging infractions we see in hockey?

Jeff MacGregor: I've seen a lot of hockey games, and it is horrifying. It's chilling. It's sort of breathtaking and I think the reason it's breathtaking is that there's a pause before he does it. There are these two beats that seem to go on and on -- then he hits him. That combined with the way Andrew goes down -- it's a very affecting moment.

You can't tell people not to play the game, but at the same time you have to tell them what is outside the allowable range of the game.

CNN/SI: From his quotes we can gather that Jesse Boulerice hasn't stopped playing a physical game, but he does at least seem remorseful. Did he come off as apologetic?

MacGregor: Oh, very much. You know, he's stuck in a real bind because he's playing in the AHL now, which is a real Darwinian league -- it's the major feeder league to the NHL. He's always played a physical game and yet he's got this hanging over his head. I think he has, since the incident, been apologetic. At one level he is genuinely sorry about what happened but in that player's brain of his he knows he has to go out and play.

CNN/SI: Andrew Long seems to have put up some capable numbers in the ECHL and AHL. Is he over the incident?

MacGregor: I think he still carries it with him. I've seen him skate and I've talked with him. Ironically he has some of the same problems Jesse does insofar as he's become self-conscious when he skates. You can't be thinking "am I going to get hurt" when you go into the corners. He's historically a graceful skater and playmaker who retains all of those abilities but who is now looking over his shoulder a bit too much. The night I saw him play he was going into the corners at like 80 percent.

CNN/SI: Would this have happened in a league that didn't allow fighting, like NCAA hockey?

MacGregor: I don't think it would have happened in college hockey. I don't think NCAA hockey would have allowed Jesse to develop the behavior that eventually led to this. He would have been made to modify his pattern of play long before it ever came to this.

CNN/SI: How far will exposing this incident to a wider audience go toward changing junior hockey?

MacGregor: In Canada, hockey is virtually impervious to certain kinds of criticism. The interesting thing is that no big Canadian publication has done anything similar to this story.

I'm no crusader or muckraker, but I think junior hockey could afford to look at itself. I would love for the smart guys in hockey, of whom there are plenty, to say, "you know what, we have to stop perpetuating the same mistakes the system always produces." One of the things you feel when you do a story like this, is that maybe someone does have to get killed before they do anything about it.

CNN/SI: Toronto Maple Leafs president Ken Dryden, whose quote finishes the piece, would like to see less fighting -- which you indicate is certainly a factor in this incident and others like it. Is there a growing number of executives with similar views?

Ken Dryden is the smartest man in hockey, and yet even Ken Dryden understands that the game can only be changed in geologic time. It has to evolve. He understands it's a very reactionary game and it's conservative game. The more you push it to change the more it resists. It's going to be from within and it's going to be incremental and evolutionary rather than revolutionary. But it won't change until the fans want it to change. You can see it in the way they come off their seats so quickly for a fight compared to a nice rush, three passes and a goal that pops the water bottle. It really is alarming what fans have come to expect from the game.

To read the story, get the March 22, 1999, issue of Sports Illustrated.

Related information
Inside the NHL
Kostya Kennedy's Mailbag
This Week's Issue of Sports Illustrated
MacGregor on hockey violence (384 K)
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