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Up Against It
Kostya Kennedy
November 20, 2000
In an exclusive interview Marty McSorley discusses his on-ice assault of Donald Brashear and the resulting suspension, the longest in NHL history
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November 20, 2000

Up Against It

In an exclusive interview Marty McSorley discusses his on-ice assault of Donald Brashear and the resulting suspension, the longest in NHL history

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The embodiment of NHL evil has blue eyes, blond hair and cheeks that are pink from the sun. He wears a silver ring on the little finger of his right hand, and he eats salad and quiche for lunch. He's 37 years old, stands 6'1", weighs 235 pounds, and his name is Martin James McSorley, though he's better known to fans, league executives and Canadian prosecutors as Marty.

McSorley lives with his girlfriend, Leanne Schuster, in a three-bedroom condominium just off the shores of Manhattan Beach in Los Angeles. Besides eating right, he works hard to keep in shape. Last Thursday night, for example—58 hours after NHL commissioner Gary Bettman extended McSorley's indefinite suspension to one year, or until Feb. 21, 2001—he played pickup hockey at a rink in El Segundo. He strapped on the Boston Bruins helmet that nine months ago he'd worn as a teammate of Raymond Bourque, and joined a collection of firemen, policemen and out-of work actors. Even after his team had lost 4-2, McSorley stayed on the ice with the last stragglers, chatting and circling about, not wanting to get off. "No matter what happens," McSorley says, "I will always have hockey."

Whether McSorley skates again in the NHL, where he has played for the past 17 seasons, is another matter. At around midday on Nov. 7 the phone rang in McSorley's kitchen. It was Bettman. "Marty," he said, "I have some news that I don't think you're going to like." The call came 20 days after McSorley had requested immediate reinstatement to the NHL. He'd been banned last February after striking Canucks forward Donald Brashear in the head with his stick during a game in Vancouver. The incident was so heinous that in addition to the league ban, McSorley was prosecuted in provincial court in British Columbia. On Oct. 6, after a nonjury trial, Judge William Kitchen found McSorley guilty of "assaulting Donald Brashear with a weapon, a hockey stick."

That ruling stung McSorley but had little tangible impact on his life. He served no jail time, and he's not on probation. In sentencing McSorley, Kitchen issued a "conditional discharge," which stipulates only that for 18 months McSorley must not "engage in any sporting event where Donald Brashear is on the opposition." If McSorley doesn't violate that condition, his criminal record will be wiped clean in the spring of 2002.

Now, with Bettman's call, McSorley's career hung in the balance. Bettman and McSorley spoke for some 45 minutes as McSorley, in gym clothes, leaned on his kitchen counter. "Marty was calm, as he usually is," says Schuster. "I couldn't tell by his reaction what the ruling was. Then, while they were talking, the league faxed us the decision. It was eight pages. I went straight to the conclusion."

Bettman banned McSorley for "one calendar year," by far the longest suspension for an on-ice infraction in NHL history. The previous record was in 1993 when Bettman suspended Washington Capitals forward Dale Hunter for 21 games—or roughly two months—for a blind-side hit on the New York Islanders' Pierre Turgeon while Turgeon was celebrating a goal in a playoff game. Turgeon suffered a separated shoulder and missed the remainder of the playoffs; Brashear not only sustained a grade 3 concussion but also a grand mal seizure immediately after hitting the ice. McSorley, a free agent, can now sign with an NHL club. He may not train with a team until after Jan. 1, however, and may not appear in a game until Feb. 21, the anniversary of his hit on Brashear.

While McSorley says only that he is "disappointed" in Bettman's ruling, his lawyer, Paul Kelly of Boston, speaks more pointedly. "Should Marty have been suspended? Absolutely," Kelly says. "Should he have been suspended for what amounts to 82 regular-season games, plus playoffs, plus training camp and preseason? That's absolutely unfair."

You've probably seen the footage. The video clip of the blow led not only sports highlights shows that evening but also late news telecasts across North America. McSorley, skating through the neutral zone, approaches Brashear, who is gliding without the puck, from behind. With a quick, hard swing of his stick, McSorley clubs Brashear on the side of his face. Brashear's 6'2", 225-pound body drops like a sack of stones. His helmet springs loose and, upon landing, the back of his skull hits the ice. Brashear lies motionless for a moment and then begins to convulse. He would be carried off on a stretcher, spend the night in a hospital and miss 20 games.

Even against the backdrop of other violent acts in hockey—and scores of them occur each season—this was extraordinary. The moment Brashear went down, the slash became the defining moment of McSorley's long career. "If McSorley plays another game in this league, then this league is a [bleeping] joke," Canucks defenseman Mattias Ohlund told The Vancouver San after the game. "It was the worst thing I've ever seen. That guy [McSorley] should be treated the same as if he tried to kill a guy on the street."

British Columbian prosecutors felt strongly enough to charge him with assault with a weapon. McSorley's slash became the first on-ice NHL misdeed to be tried in court since 1988, when Dino Ciccarelli of the Minnesota North Stars spent a day in jail for hitting Luke Richardson of the Toronto Maple Leafs twice in the head with his stick, causing no injuries to Richardson. In McSorley's case Kitchen's finding of guilt rested in his judgment that " Brashear was struck as intended."

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