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Fairly remote, obviously. Prompt medical attention in instances of commotio cordis can further reduce the chances of fatal cardiac arrest in young athletes. "What was wrong with the situation in Courmayeur was not that the blow delivered by Boni was lethal," says Schwartz, "but there was a lapse of about five minutes before the physician initiated CPR. Cardiac arrest, especially in a normal heart, is very frequently reversible if treated in time, and in my opinion CPR might have saved him. If the people in attendance had reacted properly, Jim Boni would not now be accused of manslaughter."
But it is Boni who will be on trial in the Italian courts. And it was Boni whom the Schrott family sued. Not the physician, not the hockey club, not the equipment manufacturer and not the Italian hockey federation, which in fact gave the Gardena team permission to take legal action against Boni.
"As a hockey player, it scares me to think if something tragic happens on the ice, the federation won't support me," says Maurizio Catenacci, a teammate of Boni's. Catenacci, 29, also hails from the Toronto area, and he is probably Boni's closest friend. He asked to be traded this season to CourmAosta (the team moved to Aosta two years ago, hence the new name) so that he could be with Boni when his trial took place. "There was no defibrilator at the rink," Catenacci says. "It took 15 minutes to get Schrott in an ambulance. And there's the question of why Miran Schrott got the O.K. to play."
"The kid was sick, there's no doubt of that," states Zumofen, who also says that slashes like the one that killed Schrott are given and received every game. He adds, "The ice hockey federation [officials] are the ones who could have closed the door on it. They could have told the prosecutor it was a normal hockey incident that had a tragic result. But a lot of top people from the federation are from Gardena. Schrott was from Gardena. Our team was brand-new and had no political pull with the federation."
After the death of Schrott, the federation initially suspended Boni for the duration of the '91-92 season. It seemed like an appropriate response to the tragedy, and Boni, who'd never had any previous disciplinary problems, was reinstated the following year. Literally an hour before the first game of '92-93, Zumofen received a fax saying that the federation had suspended Boni again, indefinitely, having heard that Gardena fans were preparing to bus to Cortina to protest Boni's return.
Catenacci, who played last season for a team in Fiemme, then organized a player slowdown in support of Boni. Whether they were Italian or Canadian, the hockey players in Italy knew how easily what had happened to Miran Schrott and Jim Boni might, but for the grace of God, have happened to them.
"I feel sorry for Miran and sorry for Jimmy," says Markus Brunner, an Italian player who'd been a teammate of Schrott's on the junior national team. "I saw the incident on TV, and it could happen to anybody. These slashes happen 20 times a game. If Miran were still alive today, he'd say the same thing."
Every team cooperated in the slowdown except Gardena. In games throughout both divisions, the teams waited for 10 minutes in their dressing rooms, delaying the opening face-off. Announcements were made to the fans explaining the reason for the late start. "We got a fax from the federation saying if we did it again, we'd be fined $10,000," Catenacci recalls. "We did it anyway. The fans were supportive. They clapped when we came back on the ice. And if the federation hadn't reinstated Jimmy, we were going to go on strike and not play the games."
The hockey federation relented and once again gave Boni permission to play. But bad luck had become Boni's defense partner, and in his first game back he broke his wrist and was out for another five weeks. In the interim the hockey federation suspended Boni a third time. This suspension, too, was eventually revoked by the appeals committee on the eve of the playoffs last February. Boni then led Courmayeur to a 9-3 record in the postseason as the team won the Italian Division B title.
Strangely, almost miraculously, hockey was the one thing in Jim Boni's life that was still fun. The Schrott tragedy had not tempered his enjoyment of the game or affected the way he played it—though, Boni says, "I'll never hit anyone with my stick again, I'll tell you that." He enjoyed the body contact as much as ever, even relished it in certain instances, ignoring the occasional taunts he received during the final round of the playoffs: "Assassino" or "You've already killed one kid. Want to go for another?"