Ugliness On Ice Stick-swinging Shocks Hockey World

Posted: February 23, 2000

By early yesterday afternoon, Barry Melrose had yet to watch a replay of the vicious, shocking, mindless act of violence perpetrated by Boston Bruins defenseman Marty McSorley on Vancouver's Donald Brashear late Monday night.

Eventually, he would, but Melrose wasn't looking forward to it.

After all, Melrose, ESPN's lead hockey analyst, coached McSorley for three years and has considered the bruising 36-year-old from Hamilton, Ontario, a good friend. It's never easy to watch a friend self-destruct and blight a career with a stick-swinging incident with which he will likely always be remembered.

"I was shocked when I heard about it," Melrose said yesterday by telephone from Glens Falls, N.Y. "That's so out of character for Marty. He's always been known as an honest player, a physical player who never uses his stick, an honorable, hardworking player.

"If you know Marty, you just love him because he's such a good person. But he must be held accountable for this."

With 2.7 seconds left in the Canucks' 5-2 victory in Vancouver, McSorley wielded a two-handed baseball swing at Brashear's head, striking the left winger on the right temple with the stick fully extended. The impact dislodged Brashear's helmet, and blood poured from Brashear's nose after he fell backward and his head hit the ice.

Motionless on the ice for five minutes, Brashear was removed on a stretcher, and a concussion was later diagnosed. He will be out for two to three weeks, the Canucks said. Brashear was released from the hospital yesterday and was at practice, but did not comment.

McSorley, a 17-year veteran, was suspended indefinitely pending a hearing scheduled for today, in New York, with Colin Campbell, the NHL's director of operations.

The longest penalty for violence on the ice came in 1993, when Washington's Dale Hunter was suspended for 21 games for a blind-side check on the New York Islanders' Pierre Turgeon after Turgeon scored in a playoff game. It will surprise many if McSorley's suspension doesn't exceed Hunter's.

"I think the league will come down on him very hard because of the viciousness and the injury it caused," Melrose said.

Punishment may come from another source, too. The Vancouver police, deluged with calls from angry fans, were investigating and said they would consult with the NHL.

"We have a situation here where it would appear, or that it's been alleged, that there was a fairly vicious attack by one person on another," said Constable Anne Drennan, a spokeswoman for the Vancouver police.

She said that the police had not yet interviewed Brashear or McSorley, and that she did not know how long the investigation would take. The findings will be sent to a prosecutor, who will decide whether to file charges.

Canucks general manager Brian Burke, once the NHL's chief disciplinarian, said the police should stay out.

"Leave this stuff on the ice; leave it to the National Hockey League," Burke told a Vancouver radio station, CKNW. "We don't need the Vancouver police department" or the Royal Canadian Mounted Police "involved in this."

After Monday night's game, McSorley, known throughout the league as an affable personality, was described as stone-faced while he sat in the dressing room. After taking a deep breath, McSorley apologized, offering no excuses.

"I don't know what to say," he said. "It was very stupid, and it was nothing I thought of doing. I embarrassed my team, and I apologize to Donald Brashear and the fans who had to watch that. I got really carried away, and it was dumb. I wanted to fight him. Why it happened, I don't know. There's no excuse."

Even his teammates were disturbed by the incident. "I've never been part of anything like that or witnessed anything like that," said defenseman Ray Bourque, who has been in the league for 20 years. "There is no way to justify it. It just blew me away."

Fans hurled debris at McSorley as he left the ice, and a Vancouver police sergeant on duty at the game planned to file a report. Charges could be recommended.

Early in the game, Brashear and McSorley, both known more for their fists than their skills, fought, and Brashear got the better of McSorley. Later, Brashear skated away when McSorley tried to goad him into another fight. Brashear also was involved in a goal-mouth tangle that caused a knee injury to Bruins goalie Byron Dafoe.

McSorley has long had a reputation as one of the league's fiercest fighters.

Signed by Boston in December as a free agent, McSorley entered the season ranked third all-time in penalty minutes. During a career with seven different teams, the 6-foot-1, 235-pound defenseman has been suspended six times, once for spearing Calgary's Mike Bullard in 1988 when McSorley was with Edmonton.

While with Edmonton and Los Angeles, McSorley became known as Wayne Gretzky's bodyguard.

McSorley was sent to the Kings from Edmonton in the historic 1989 trade that ended Gretzky's career with the Oilers. McSorley became one of Gretzky's closest friends, although Gretzky was among the league's most outspoken players against violence on the ice.

McSorley became a central figure in the 1993 Stanley Cup finals, between Montreal and Los Angeles, which was then coached by Melrose.

In Game 2, the Kings held a one-goal lead and a 1-0 edge in the series when Canadiens coach Jacques Demers asked for a stick measurement with less than two minutes remaining in the third period. The curviture of McSorley's blade was found to be illegal.

The Canadiens scored on the resulting power play, won the game in overtime, and took the best-of-seven series in five games. McSorley's illegal stick was perceived as the turning point of the series.

"We were ahead by a goal and were dominating," Melrose recalled. "The series turned after the stick measurement."

Primarily a defenseman, McSorley has also played wing, sometimes on a line with Gretzky. He entered this season with 106 career goals, and had four goals and six assists in the '93 playoffs.

Now considered a player hanging on to the final stage of his career, McSorley may never again play if Campbell suspends him for the remainder of the season, a possibility acknowledged by Melrose.

"Marty comes from a big family," Melrose said. "His mother died when he was young and he worked so hard to make it in the league. I know that what he did has to be bothering him tremendously. It's sad."

* This article contains information from the Associated Press.

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