V A N C O U V E R, British Columbia, Sept. 27, 2000 -- A veteran National HockeyLeague brawler calmly explained the ritualistic world of hockeyfighting today, but said the on-ice attack that landedhim with an assault charge was an accident.
Marty McSorley, the first NHL player since 1988 to facecriminal charges for an on-ice incident, admitted he swung hisstick to provoke a fight with fellow hockey “tough guy” DonaldBrashear but was “absolutely not” aiming for his head.
Answering questions from his attorney, the 17-year NHLveteran defended the use of fighting in hockey and said he sawhis role as that of a “policeman” who protected his teammatesand honor of his team.
“I think that fighting comes from the heart,” saidMcSorley, whose fighting skills have also made him the thirdmost penalized player in NHL history.
Fight Sparks Debate
McSorley, who played last season for the Boston Bruins, wascharged with criminal assault for a stick attack at the end ofa game on Feb. 21, that left Brashear of the Vancouver Canucksbleeding and unconscious on the ice.
Fights are relatively common in professional hockey games,but the slashing incident’s apparent viciousness sparked debateabout hockey violence — especially in Canada where the sport isclose to a national religion.
Replays of the slash have been shown over and over again onCanadian television.
The attack happened in the closing seconds of game won byVancouver and during which the men had already fought once andwhich Brashear had also collided with Boston’s goalie — whichcaused an uproar among Boston’s players.
Aiming For the Shoulder
“It became pretty obvious to me that I was put out there toconfront Donald,” McSorley answered when asked why Boston’scoaches had put him back on the ice with less than 30 secondsremaining in the game.
McSorley, testifying with the aid of a slow-motion videorecording of the event, said as he swung his stick at Brashearfrom behind he was aiming for the shoulder and did not know hehad hit Brashear’s head until after Brashear had fallen.
“I can’t say I know exactly what happened … it allhappened so fast,” he said at his trial in British ColumbiaProvincial Court, which was packed to overflowing withreporters, lawyers and hockey fans.
With nobody denying that the slashing took place, the legalquestion facing the judge hearing McSorley’s case is whether heintended to hurt Brashear and if his actions were within thenorms of what happens in sporting events.
Tough Guys Rule of Conduct
Fighting is against the rules in hockey, but unlike inother professional sports where it is also banned, NHL teamsopenly keep players on their rosters whose primary skills arewith their fists rather than the puck.
“Personally to me it is to keep a great hockey game going.Not to let lesser skilled players bring your skilled playersdown to their level,” McSorley said when asked how he saw therole of players like himself.
McSorley “tough guys” within the league have their ownunspoken rules of conduct, including how to turn down a fightwhen a player knows that taking a penalty will actually hurthis team.
“You acknowledge the guy and say ‘I can’t fight now, butI’ll be back,’” he said.
McSorley said he started the first fight against Brashearto fire-up Boston emotionally after Vancouver had scored anearly goal. Brashear won that fight but McSorley said that didmean anger motivated a rematch.
“You can’t be angry, because if you are angry in the middleof a fight you’re going to take a dumb suspension,” he said.
McSorley’s articulate testimony contrasted with that ofBrashear, who was on the witness stand for only a few minutesTuesday and admitted he did not want to be there.
Brashear and the NHL officials have said they would ratherthe incident be handled within the league’s disciplinarysystem. McSorley was suspended for the rest of the season lastyear and has not re-signed with a new team this year.