The NHL is finally in the spotlight. However, thanks to Boston Bruins defenseman Marty McSorley, it is not for the excitement or skill that its players provide to hockey fans around the world.
McSorley has seemingly dragged down the entire NHL by himself with his vicious stick-swinging blow that caused Vancouver Canucks defenseman Donald Brashear to crumple to the ice. McSorley, known throughout his 17-year career as Wayne Gretzky's protector in both Edmonton and Los Angeles, is known as one the league's biggest bruisers, a man who never met an opponent he wouldn't fight.
With two seconds remaining in Monday's game between Boston and Vancouver, McSorley struck Brashear across the right temple with his stick, causing Brashear's helmet to fly off before he even hit the ice.
Brashear then lay on the ice, with blood streaming from his nose and his body convulsing, as his Canucks teammates went after McSorley with a vengeance.
Brashear suffered a concussion that will keep him on the bench for at least 2-3 weeks.
For his actions, McSorley will serve the longest suspension ever handed down in the league, 23 games. The suspension will keep McSorley out of action the rest of the regular season and the playoffs, if the Bruins are able to sneak their way in.
The suspension may stretch into next year as well, but that has not been decided as of yet by league vice president Colin Campbell. McSorley has apologized to both the fans and Brashear, although the Vancouver defenseman had no comment about McSorley's apology.
Before the McSorley incident, violence in the NHL had taken a back seat to the superior skill that its athletes have been able to demonstrate. The biggest black eye the NHL has faced for years is the public perception of its tough, physical game.
With the brutality always comes questions as to whether the game is too violent. Intimidation is something enforcers like McSorley pride themselves on, and they will take whatever means necessary to one-up their competitor.
Gordie Howe single-handedly took care of himself by being the biggest and toughest player of his generation, and he was able to intimidate the other team by his skill and brashness. Striking fear into your opponent is part of winning, and McSorley won two Stanley Cups with Edmonton.
Hockey fans who actually watch the game (and who have learned its rules and strategies) can answer that better than the average fan, the kind who turns on the All-Star Game and watches two teams do nothing but figure skate.
The brutality of the sport is part of the game, but to take it as far as McSorley did is just plain wrong. Checking an opposing player into the boards is one thing. Turning their face into a bloody mess is another.
The Vancouver police are now getting involved in this incident, which is absurd. Hopefully the NHL can keep them out of this already-messy incident.
If the police do get involved, there will never be a bigger case of the pot calling the kettle black. In 1981, the only other time the police were involved in an on-ice incident, Dino Ciccarrelli of the Minnesota North Stars smacked Luke Richardson of the Toronto Maple Leafs across his head with his stick and was subsequently charged with assault.
Then there is the question of race and whether McSorley is a racist. Brashear is black in a league where maybe 2 percent of the players are minorities. Although blacks are becoming more prevalent in the NHL, the question always comes up if there is an altercation involving a minority.
The only question left unanswered is: If this type of violence keeps up, when will the first on-ice death take place?
The problem is that putting players on the ice strictly to fight is part of the game, and it's a strategy implicated by coaches to protect their superstars and keep the game in their favor.
McSorley and Brashear had already scrapped once in the game, with Brashear getting the better of him. Was McSorley sore about getting shown up by a younger tough guy? Who knows.
Mc Sorley, who has hands the size of canned hams, is unlikely to play again. His 17-year career and his two Stanley Cup rings will never erase what happened in Vancouver. Just ask Donald Brashear.
Trevor Smith is the Nevada Appeal hockey columnist.