On Friday, April 17, 1998, during an Ontario Hockey League playoff game at the Compuware Sports Arena in Plymouth, Mich., 19-year-old Jesse Boulerice (pronounced BOWL-er-iss) swung his stick into the face of 19-year-old Andrew Long. That fact is not in dispute. It is, after all, on videotape. Jesse was in white jersey number 18; Andrew wore black jersey number 19. It was early in the first period of the fourth game of a seven-game series. Jesse's team, the Plymouth Whalers, was down three games to none. Andrew's team, the Guelph Storm (pronounced GWELF), was on the verge of advancing through the divisional eliminations toward Canada's lesser grail, Major Junior hockey's Memorial Cup.
When Jesse swung his stick, he produced immediate consequences for Andrew: a broken nose, multiple facial fractures, a Grade III concussion accompanied by seizure, a contusion of the brain, two black eyes and a gash in his upper lip the size of a handlebar mustache. Had the stick landed a hand's width higher or lower, Andrew might have been killed.
The consequences for Jesse, arriving more slowly but with a grinding weight and gravity of their own, have been these: a one-year suspension from the OHL and a suspension from the American Hockey League, his next step up the professional hockey ladder, that ended last Nov. 15. He has also been charged by the Wayne County (Mich.) Prosecutors Office with a felony: assault with intent to do great bodily harm less than murder. A conviction could carry a $5,000 fine and 10 years in prison.
For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. These are the applied physics of violence. Arc and acceleration, cause and effect. Swing a hockey stick hard enough, and you can bring the world down on yourself.
A QUESTION OF FACT
On April 30, at the Toronto Marriott Hotel, the OHL held a hearing on what it called the Jesse Boulerice/Andrew Long Matter. The video was reviewed. Reports were taken from game officials, coaches, the players and their agents. Jesse and Andrew were interviewed separately and did not talk to each other.
The (DHL's confidential 35-page report is largely what you'd expect: witnesses explaining what they saw, agents and coaches speaking about the character of their players and the viciousness or the unintentional nature of the hit. A few intriguing points emerge. The first is he had broken his right hand several games before the Guelph series, and he was wearing a playing cast on the night he swung that stick. The OHL report says Jesse was on painkillers that night, but no conclusions are drawn as to how that might have affected his behavior. Also interesting are these questions to Jesse regarding what he said as he was led off the ice that night.
Question: Do you recall the statement allegedly made by yourself to Referee [Pat] Smola, "You didn't even see what happened"?
Answer: I knew what I did was wrong—I was upset—I was not sure what else I should be saying.
Question: Do you recall the statement to linesman [Steve] Miller, "but Smola did not see what I did"?