Those were deliberate acts of violence that pushed the envelope of organized sport to a level that the various prosecutors apparently believed was closer to civic mayhem. Even so, none of the cases resulted in sentences that amounted to more than a slap on the wrist. Courts on this side of the Atlantic have shown a great reluctance to apply the law of the land to events that take place within an athletic arena.
Boni, however, isn't being tried on this side of the Atlantic, and it is unclear how the Italian courts will react to his case (which will be tried before a jury). "It's going to be a tough trial," says Zumofen. "There's not much of a hockey culture here."
"Most of Italy thinks, Look at this crazy sport of hockey. You're allowed to kill someone with a stick," says Catenacci. "The judge will probably have never seen a hockey game before."
A factor that should cause particular alarm for a lot of top NHL players about the whole Boni-Schrott affair is that beginning in April, Italy will host hockey's world championships. "I think the prosecutor's actions raise questions in a lot of people's minds," says Bob Goodenow, head of the NHL Players' Association, whose constituency should be well represented on the Canadian, U.S., Swedish, Russian, Finnish and Czech national teams in the championships. "I've looked at the tape of the Boni incident, and while the result was horrible, it wasn't an act by a player that hasn't been seen in hockey a thousand times before. Do they prosecute boxers and soccer players over there? It's a legal quagmire and an issue of concern for all the players and federations to be aware of before we go [to Italy]."
Walter Bush, head of USA Hockey and a council member of the International Ice Hockey Federation, which sanctions the world championships, agrees. He had heard about the Boni incident but until recently was unaware that it was being prosecuted. "If that's the law of the land, maybe we shouldn't be playing there," Bush says. "Everybody who plays hockey knows there's some danger involved every time you step on the ice. In 1968 I saw [North Star] Billy Masterton fall backward on the ice and hit his head. Thirty hours later he was dead. What if someone had tripped him? Would they have tried the guy for murder? I'm not too keen on playing there if they go ahead with this trial."
"If he's convicted, hockey in Italy is over," says Ralph DiFiore, a teammate of Boni's on CourmAosta who grew up in Montreal. "The prosecutor says Boni intended to hit him, so it's manslaughter? It's a joke. If I belt a guy into the boards, it's premeditated. What if he loses an eye? What if he breaks his jaw? Is some prosecutor going to come after me? What about a boxer who kills a guy in the ring? It happens, eh?"
It happens, yes. Still, as reasonable as all these arguments sound, Jim Boni will stand trial. Alone. It is not Italy that will be on trial. Nor an overly vigilant prosecutor. Nor the sport itself. It is one scared and bewildered hockey player who, in a rare moment of feistiness, says, "I'm going to clear my name. I want to see who's got the guts to put me in jail."
As Feb. 16 approaches, his nightmares will return. He's fairly sure of that. And only that.