Marty McSorley was found guilty of assault with a weapon today but won’t go to jail for smashing an opponent in the head with a stick during an NHL game.
McSorley was granted a conditional discharge, meaning no charges will go on his record as long as he completes 18 months of probation. He was also ordered not to play against Donald Brashear during that time.
If McSorley were to play against Brashear in the United States, the Canadian court would consider that a probation violation.
McSorley had contended that the hit that sent Brashear sprawling to the ice was an accident.
“He [McSorley] had an impulse to strike him in the head,” Judge William Kitchen said. “Brashear was struck as intended.”
A Particularly Brutal Hit
The trial was the first for an on-ice attack by an NHL player since Dino Ciccarelli, then with the Minnesota North Stars, was sentenced in 1988. He received one day in jail and a $1,000 fine for hitting Toronto’s Luke Richardson with his stick.
Though hockey players are frequently penalized for swiping at opponents with sticks, an infraction called “slashing,” such attacks rarely end up in court. But McSorley’s hit was considered particularly brutal. He was charged after thousands of fans and millions more TV viewers watched the hit on Brashear. The blow occurred with three seconds remaining in the game.
McSorley, who has played for six teams during a 17-year career, hit Brashear with three seconds left during a Feb. 21 game between the Boston Bruins and Vancouver Canucks.
As Brashear skated with his back to McSorley, the Bruins defenseman came up behind him and slashed at his upper body, striking him in the side of the head.
Brashear’s head struck the ice. He briefly lost consciousness and sustained a concussion and memory lapses. He returned to play after several weeks and has fully recovered.
Brashear testified that he still has no memory of what happened.
A Sport of Risk
Bill Smart, McSorley’s lawyer, argued that NHL players give “explicit consent” to the risk of on-ice contact and McSorley’s hit was not an assault.
McSorley, one of the league’s notorious enforcers, testified he didn’t intend to hit Brashear in the head. He contends he was instead trying to hit him in the shoulder to provoke him into fighting.
“If Marty McSorley had skated up the ice and slashed Donald Brashear in the upper shoulder, there would be no criminal assault,” Smart said. “It’s within the norms of NHL hockey.”
McSorley was suspended by the NHL for the rest of the season after the hit and is an unrestricted free agent. He must meet with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman before he can resume playing.
The league maintained it took adequate action when it handed McSorley the longest suspension — 23 games — in league history.
Even Brashear admitted in testimony that he didn’t want to be in court.
Brashear, a left wing who had 11 goals and 136 penalty minutes in 60 games last season, re-signed with the Canucks on Sept. 19. Vancouver opened its season Thursday at Philadelphia.
The weeklong trial featured evidence from McSorley and Brashear, on-ice officials, Canucks coach Marc Crawford, New York Rangers executive Glen Sather and others.
Even Wayne Gretzky made a cameo appearance. He did not testify but sat in the courtroom in support of McSorley, his friend and once his on-ice protector.