A blind-side check put a teen's future on ice
Hockey got another black eye on Dec. 7 when prosecutors in Lake County, Ill., charged a 15-year-old player with two counts of aggravated battery after he allegedly delivered a cross-check from behind that left another 15-year-old paralyzed from the chest down. The scene was a Nov. 3 junior varsity game between club teams in suburban Chicago, the bitter rivals New Trier and Glenbrook North. The Glenbrook North jayvees had beaten New Trier's junior varsity in the state championship game last season, the last time the two squads had met. This time New Trier won 7-4, led by co-captain Neal Goss, who had a hat trick.
As the final seconds ticked down, Goss skated toward the boards to get the puck. That's where he was cross-checked from behind by a Glenbrook North player. The state's attorney's office contends the hit came after the game ended. "The victim was not playing hockey," says George Strickland, chief of the criminal division for the Lake County state's attorney's office. "He was attempting to leave the ice and was not facing the defendant, nor was he aware that the defendant was skating at him, picking up speed or raising his stick."
The hit drove Goss headfirst into the boards. He fell and lay stricken on the ice. Strickland says the other boy then taunted Goss, saying, "That's what you get for messin'."
The young defendant will plead not guilty and claim the crosscheck happened as the buzzer sounded. He faces up to six years in a youth correction facility if he is convicted, though prosecutors would probably recommend a lighter sentence. Goss family lawyer Philip Corboy Jr. has also brought a civil suit against the boy and others including North-brook Hockey League and Glen-brook North coach Adam Young, who the suit claims "persistently heckled and derided" Goss and encouraged his players to "target [Goss] during as well as after the game." (Young was unavailable for comment.) The matter may take months to untangle in court.
Hockey officials in Illinois assailed the state's decision to file criminal charges. "I think it's a terrible thing that the police have to get involved in something that happened during the contest of a sporting event," Northbrook Hockey League president Alan Kray told the Chicago Tribune. "There are checking-from-behind [penalties] every game."
That's the problem. Spinal cord injuries are becoming horrifyingly common in hockey. Players keep getting stronger and hitting harder while coaches, referees and league officials fail to treat checking from behind as the potentially catastrophic act that it is. One kid who spends the rest of his life in a wheelchair after a hit from behind is one kid too many. If it takes criminal proceedings and civil suits to hammer that message home, so be it.
—EM. Swift with Lester Munson
Order on The Court
Even ardent tennis fans scratched their heads last summer when Pete Sampras thrashed Andre Agassi in the Wimbledon finals only to lose the No. 1 ranking to Agassi after the match. Starting next year such nonsense will be history. Last week the ATP Tour hit a screaming winner by announcing that it will scrap its confusing ranking system, under which players were ranked based on their 14 best showings over the previous 52 weeks. Instead everyone will start the season at zero and amass ranking points as the year rolls on.
Under the new format a player's points will be based on his 18 best tournament finishes, with one important catch: His performances in the four Grand Slam events and the big-ticket Super Nine tournaments—repackaged as the Masters Series—will all count among the 18, even if he fails to show up. "We want fans to know something important is happening more than just four times a year," says Mark Miles, the tour's CEO.