VANCOUVER, British Columbia – National Hockey League veteran Marty McSorley was found guilty today of assault with a weapon for hitting another player with his stick during a game earlier this year.
The conviction is the first of an NHL player for an on-ice hit since 1988.
A Vancouver judge gave McSorley a conditional discharge, meaning he will serve no jail time and his record eventually could be expunged. He could have been sentenced to as much as 1 1/2years in prison.
McSorley, a 17-year NHL veteran known as an “enforcer” for his often rough play, hung his head as he spoke after the conviction was announced. He told the court he intends to speak personally with Vancouver Canucks player Donald Brashear, the opponent he clubbed over the head with his stick.
“I’ve played the game for a long time,” said McSorley, 37. “I have a tremendous amount of respect for the game. … I’m extremely glad to see Donald back on the ice and I do plan to address this with Donald in person.”
McSorley was skating for the Boston Bruins when he bashed Brashear during a Feb. 21 game. He testified that he didn’t intend to hit Brashear in the head. He contends he was instead trying to hit him in the shoulder to provoke him into fighting.
“If Marty McSorley had skated up the ice and slashed Donald Brashear in the upper shoulder, there would be no criminal assault,” defense lawyer Bill Smart said. “It’s within the norms of NHL hockey.”
But provincial court Judge William Kitchen didn’t buy the explanation.
“He had an impulse to strike him in the head,” Kitchen said as he announced the conviction. “Brashear was struck as intended.”
Though hockey players are frequently penalized for swiping at other players with their sticks – an infraction called “slashing” – such blows rarely end up in court. But McSorley’s hit was considered particularly brutal. He was charged after thousands of fans and millions more television viewers watched the incident.
The blow occurred with three seconds remaining in the game. As Brashear skated with his back to McSorley, the Bruin defenseman came up behind him and slashed at his upper body, striking him in the side of the head and sending him crumpling to the ice.
Brashear, who briefly lost consciousness, testified that he still has no memory of the incident. He has since recovered fully and is back playing with the Canucks.
McSorley is the first NHL player to be charged criminally for an on-ice blow since 1988, when Dino Ciccarelli got a day in jail and a $1,000 fine after a vicious stick-swinging incident.
The weeklong trial heard evidence from McSorley and Brashear, on-ice officials, Canucks coach Marc Crawford, New York Rangers executive Glen Sather and others. Even hockey great Wayne Gretzky made a cameo appearance, not to testify but to sit in the courtroom in support of his friend and former on-ice protector McSorley.
McSorley was suspended by the NHL for the rest of the season after the hit and is an unrestricted free agent. He must meet with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman before he resumes playing.
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