NHL’s darkest hour: The Todd Bertuzzi and Steve Moore incident

When Todd Bertuzzi decked Steve Moore with a blindside punch during a 2004 game, he was carrying out the code of the NHL.

Bertuzzi was tasked with fighting Moore, who refused to square up. While most people agree Bertuzzi shouldn’t have decked Moore outside of a dukes-up battle, it’s also important to remember Moore should have squared up.

Why? Well the reasons will become clear in a review of the incendiary events leading up to March 9, 2004, game between the Colorado Avalanche and the Vancouver Canucks.

How did Steve Moore end up unconscious on the ice under a pile of Vancouver Canuck players, his face a bloody mess, three vertebrae in his neck broken?

To understand, you have to back up to a February showdown between the Avalanche and the Canucks. During that game, Steve Moore laid out the Avalanche’s leading scorer, Markus Naslund. He was dealt a minor concussion and chipped a bone in his elbow. The hit was deemed legal, but the Canucks were in an uproar.

Moore had violated the league’s unwritten rules by taking a cheap shot on a valuable player and a non-fighter. Vancouver president and general manager Brian Burke, the league’s former chief disciplinarian, described the play as “a marginal player going after a superstar with a headhunting hit.” Bertuzzi, for his part, called Moore a “piece of shit.”

The two teams met again five days later, and the Canucks provoked Moore into fighting Matt Cooke during the first period. The game turned into a blowout in the Avalanche’s favor, and the Canucks still felt they had a score to settle.

Midway through the final period, Bertuzzi made a more determined effort to lure Moore into another fight. Moore wouldn’t face up, and kept skating away from Bertuzzi. Frustrated, Bertuzzi finally decided to grab hold of Moore’s jersey and cold cock him.

The punch knocked Moore out, and he hit the ice hard. Bertuzzi fell on top of him and further pileup ensued, resulting in fractured vertebrae and a concussion for Moore.

It took a full 10 minutes to get Moore off the ice. He was stretchered off and taken to Vancouver General Hospital.

Bertuzzi was quick to apologize, but the incident didn’t end there. He was immediately issued and indefinite suspension pending a hearing. He was suspended for the rest of the 2004-2005 season.

Moore took the unprecedented step of legal action against Bertuzzi. After a four-month inquiry, Bertuzzi was charged with assault. As part of a plea deal, Bertuzzi avoided jail time. Moore then filed a civil suit in a Colorado court, with Moore seeking an outrageous $68 million (CAD).
The parties settles out of court in August of 2014, but the legacy of the inglorious incident endures.

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