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When a Hennepin County ( Minn.) grand jury indicted Dave Forbes of the Boston Bruins on Jan. 17 for aggravated assault with a dangerous weapon—his hockey stick—on Henry Boucha of the Minnesota North Stars during a game earlier in the month, it opened a Pandora's box of potential legal complications that could alter the nature of hockey and all contact sports. As the 26-year-old Bruin leftwinger was arraigned on the felony charge in Hennepin District Court last week, he became the first pro athlete in the United States to be hauled before a judge by civil authorities for the commission of an act within the confines of a playing area. If the case proceeds to trial and Forbes is convicted, he would receive a mandatory minimum sentence of three years in prison.
At present Forbes is serving a 10-game suspension without pay imposed by National Hockey League President Clarence Campbell, who termed the case "one of the most vicious incidents that I have ever been called upon to deal with." Boucha, meanwhile, is still suffering double vision caused when Forbes punched him with the butt end of his hockey stick. "Are we supposed to sit here and say 'Boys will be boys'?" said Hennepin County Attorney Gary Flakne, who announced the indictment. "I agree that hockey is a contact sport, but there seems to be a line which the grand jury found, and I agree with, beyond which something other than good-natured hard contact becomes assault."
The indictment carries ominous overtones. "If this civil intervention is pursued to trial," said Campbell, a lawyer himself, "we will have to give great thought to the future of our game. As far as I am concerned, civil authority is not equipped to deal with this type of situation." Harry Sinden, the managing director of the Bruins, warned that "if Forbes is convicted of anything, we'd have to think twice about letting Bobby Orr, Phil Esposito and all our other players ever skate in Minnesota again." Sinden paused. "If they convict Forbes," he added, "think of what could happen to football players who hit the quarterback after the whistle or to baseball players who slide into second base with their spikes high and cut another player."
Hockey had a similar case five years ago in which Ottawa police swore out charges against Ted Green of the Bruins and the late Wayne Maki of the St. Louis Blues for "assault causing bodily harm" after a vicious stick-swinging fight during an exhibition game. Green, now a New England Whaler, suffered a fractured skull and missed the entire season. He still wears a plate in his skull. Maki died last year of an unrelated brain tumor. In separate trials one judge declared Maki "not guilty" on grounds of self-defense; another judge found Green "not guilty" as well, saying that "hockey cannot be played without what normally are called assaults."
Maybe not, but as Campbell grimly admitted after the Forbes indictment, "Something must be done to control the violence in our game. I hear 10 discipline cases each week. And over the course of a season, I suspect I hear at least 10 cases where the civil authorities might think a crime was committed." He shook his head. "Without doubt this has been our worst year ever for sheer violence on the ice." Underscoring that statement is the fact that so far this season Campbell has suspended seven NHL players:
?Ernie Hicke of the New York Islanders was suspended for two games after kicking Bobby Schmautz of the Bruins.
?And now Forbes.