Sickening is a strong word, and yet it seems to perfectly describe the hit by Rouyn-Noranda forward Patrice Cormier on Mikael Tam of the Quebec Remparts earlier this week in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
If you haven't seen the hit, you can see it on YouTube (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gAoFY0owFXc&feature=player|UNDER|embedded). The video has had over 500,000 views, which perhaps serves as some indication as to just how vicious it is.
Perhaps the hockey world has become desensitized to headshots, seeing as they've unfortunately become a sort of norm in this day and age, that on first sight of the hit, it doesn't tend to make your stomach crawl all that much with disgust. I'll admit that when I first watched it, I didn't think it was that bad. After watching it several more times, I'm inclined to think that it was that bad, and worse.
If you take a look at the hit, you will see Cormier, who captained Canada's latest entry in the World Junior Championships, come off the bench and head straight for Tam, his elbow outstretched as he lay out the incredibly late hit in the neutral zone. Following the hit, Tam lay on the ice, motionless for a few moments before seizing uncontrollably and then being taken off the ice in a stretcher.
Cormier was ejected from the game and awaits further discipline from the 'Q'. Most analysts have suggested a suspension for the rest of the season, which is just a hair past being half-finished, and the playoffs would be a suitable punishment. Others have called for even more.
Whatever the resulting suspension, it is clear Cormier was in the wrong. There is no way to defend the nonsensical hit. It goes beyond a cheap shot and borders on assault, much like the infamous Todd Bertuzzi incident in the National Hockey League, which included a punch to the back of the head and the subsequent bulldogging of Steve Moore in 2004. Bertuzzi ended up being suspended for the rest of the regular season and the playoffs and pleaded guilty to an assault-causing-bodily-harm charge in British Columbia. Just as the law got involved then, it is now, with the Quebec Provincial Police reportedly handling matters.
On the other side of spectrum, where intent was not necessarily part of the equation, former Erie Otter Mike Liambas got suspended for the rest of the Ontario Hockey League season for his headshot on the Kitchener Rangers's Ben Fanelli on October 30 of last year (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9unlpJMAVHA).
In terms of severity, Cormier's hit on Tam ranks perhaps somewhere in between the Bertuzzi/Moore and Liambas/Fanelli incidents. Bertuzzi's assault was clearly premeditated, while Liambas's hit was arguably an in-the-heat-of-the-moment affair. It is unclear how long Cormier took to decide that he was going to hit Tam, but it is plainly evident by just looking at the video that he intended to do it. Seeing as Liambas got a full year without any apparent intent, it seems likely that Cormier will be forced to sit out at least that long as a result of his actions… but, should that end up being the case, there's little guarantee that he won't suit up in another league, just as Liambas did, joining the International Hockey League's Bloomington Prairie Thunder in early December.
Interestingly enough, not that it has much bearing on this most recent set of events, Liambas got suspended for five games following a hit on Muskegon Lumberjack Jason Lawmaster on December 29. The hit from behind resulted in a Lawmaster rupturing his spleen. For his part, Lawmaster didn't blame Liambas for what happened, saying in an interview with the Muskegon Chronicle "I think it was a fluke thing. We were both falling, and I don't think he was trying to blow up my spleen."
Whatever transpires in the coming days, it is clear that the culture of hockey has changed so much in recent decades. Where there was once respect for fellow players, there is now disregard for their safety. What's worse, what these latest incidents tell us (and there are many more to choose from) is that this culture has seeped into the junior ranks, and who knows how far below them.
Higher up, New Jersey Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello, who drafted Cormier in the second round of the NHL draft in 2008, said on record that he did not believe a suspension as severe as Liambas's was warranted. He also said: "I certainly have spoken to Patrice, only because of the rhetoric. I asked him how he felt because of the rhetoric. There is no issue from my end of it."
One can only begin to question what is going in inside of Lamoriello's head at this point, not the least of which is whether or not he truly believes what he's saying, or he is just trying to support his prospect as he deals with all the negative things being said about him in the media.
Truth be told, it is hard to conceive of an NHL general manager throwing a prospect or player of his under the bus, but this is the time when actions can speak louder than words. Let Lamoriello get behind Cormier in the press, but let us all hope that the private discussion between him and Cormier did not just concern rhetoric, because, by all accounts, Mr. Lamoriello, there is a real issue on your end of things, and you have a chance to help make sure something like this doesn't happen again, or, more realistically, all that often again.
No, Cormier should not necessarily be made an example of, as Liambas arguably was earlier in the season. Clearly, it didn't work. For the 'Q' to single Cormier out at this point, it would reek of a passing-the-buck mentality and would just be sweeping the issue under the rug. It is clear that far-reaching changes need to come at every single level of the game. There needs to be a joint agreement of some sort that suspensions, such as the one handed down on Liambas, whether you believe it to have been fair or not, be respected universally and that every guilty party from here on out have the book thrown at them and have it stick, no matter the circumstances of the transgression. Having the book thrown in all directions right now is probably the only way to ensure it gets read one way or another, its rules followed much more diligently in the future. If not, it would truly be a tragedy… and likely lead to an even worse one eventually. Judging by the ever-increasing frequency of headshots, it will most definitely come sooner rather than later.