The Chilling Sight of Bruins defenseman Marty McSorley's raising his stick and bludgeoning Canucks forward Donald Brashear on the right temple on Feb. 21 has sent the hockey community into a state of denial. After suspending McSorley for the final 23 games of this season—the longest suspension in league history—NHL head disciplinarian Colin Campbell called McSorley's head-hunting "an isolated incident" and added that "these kind of acts are not representative of our sport." Can we please be honest? Though extreme, McSorley's hit was a predictable outgrowth of the behavior that hockey is built upon. McSorley has played 17 seasons and is widely respected around the league—mainly because of his ability to pummel opponents. He has now been suspended seven times for gratuitous violence.
You might have seen this one coming. McSorley lost a fight to Brashear early in the game, and as Vancouver's 5-2 victory wound down, Brashear taunted Boston players. McSorley wanted at him. "I was just trying to get him to fight" McSorley said, explaining the attack. In hockey, vigilante justice is the law of the land.
Defenders of the NHL act as if they haven't noticed the bodies that have littered the ice in recent years. How about the Sharks' Gary Suter's stick-smacking the Mighty Ducks' Paul Kariya in the head two seasons ago? Last season the Kings' Matt Johnson sucker punched the Rangers' Jeff Beukeboom to the back of the skull. Beukeboom suffered a concussion so severe that he retired, and 18 months later he's too unsteady to skate with his two sons.
Would you want your kids playing this sport? In a bantam league match in Ontario last week, Marty Ryersee, 16, delivered a stick to the head of Jared Flick, 15, sending Flick to the hospital with a concussion. Junior leagues in Canada and minor leagues in the U.S. are forums for bloodletting, and unharnessed violence is so integral to the NHL brand that the league promotes such mayhem in advertisements for itself. Fans and players love the scenes from Slapshot that sometimes air in NHL arenas. Slapshot isn't funny anymore.
"What scares me as a coach," says Dallas's Ken Hitchcock, "is wondering whether I have a player on my team who is capable of something like that." You do, Ken. Of course you do. This is hockey. This is the NHL.