Hockey Injury in Canadians-Bruins Game Raises Calls For Criminal or Disciplinary Action Against Bruin Zdeno Chara

Canadians are debating where to draw the line between rough sports and criminal conduct after Montreal Canadiens forward Max Pacioretty (left) was hospitalized due to a bodycheck by Boston Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara (right).

Pacioretty suffered a broken vertebra and serious concussion. However, the National Hockey League declined to discipline Chara, though the police are investigating the matter. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman announced “Our hockey operations people are extraordinarily comfortable with the decision that they made.” Well, fans and Pacioretty are not. While Pacioretty does not want criminal prosecution, but does believe that Chara should have been disciplined.

Likewise, Geoff Molson, chairman and owner of the Canadiens, has written the NHL that his “organization does not agree with the decision taken yesterday by the National Hockey League” and noted that violence had been a serious problem in the NHL.

We discuss this controversy in torts in the context of the case of Hackbart v. The Cincinnati Bengals involving a game between the Denver Broncos and the Cincinnati Bengals in Denver in 1973. The Broncos’ defensive back, Dale Hackbart, was injured by a blow by Bengals’ offensive back, Charles “Booby” Clark. The court ruled that the hit fell outside of the NFL rules and thus Hackbart did not consent to such a battery. The reason was that the hit violated the rules of the game. However, there was no discussion of whether the rules of the NFL differed from the practices or industry custom.

By comparison, many fans want to see highly physical confrontations in NFL games. Indeed, I recall reading years ago how our teams had to “re-train” European players to be more aggressive when playing in the NHL. Those players were trained to follow the rules and avoid things like bodychecks.

The liability for sports accidents has even arisen in games like golf.

The article below recounts how there have been three cases of hockey violence since 2008.

Some judges have been less tolerant of the idea of violence being an industry custom in hockey. In the case of Dino Ciccarelli of the Minnesota North Stars, he was jailed for a day and fined him $1,000 for hitting an opposing player with his stick.

This long-standing controversy (particularly in football and hockey) presents a novel issue. In terms of consent for intentional torts, the courts have always held that there are some things that people cannot consent to such as crimes. Thus, if the underlying conduct is criminal, courts will routinely ignore consent to the conduct. The judge in the Ciccarelli case noted that he was not going to let players engage in conduct in the stadium that would be a crime just outside the stadium in the street.

Source: Forbes and CBC.

Jonathan Turley

28 thoughts on “Hockey Injury in Canadians-Bruins Game Raises Calls For Criminal or Disciplinary Action Against Bruin Zdeno Chara”

  1. I’ve often wondered about this while watching the “bench-clearing brawls” that often accompany Major Lrague Baseball games. If this kind of behavior transpired at a bar, or at a supermarket, or at the Reno air races, would the police be on hand quickly to haul off the perpetrators? (That’s what’s refered to as a rhetorical question.)

  2. I grew up in a hockey crazy community in Minnesota. I love hockey, it is the best team sport ever – I HATE the NHL. They turn a great game into a goonball thug fest. Henry Boucha was intentionally hooked in the face & lost an eye. His assailant served a few game suspension. Dave Shultz skated on his ankles but boy could he break faces. Todd Bartuzzi jumps Steve Moore and smashes his head into the ice; Moore had moths of rehab and never played again. Bartuzzi is still in the league. It goes on and on and on like this, and ONLY in the NHL, no other hockey league has this problem. There is more hitting in football but you never see this thuggery there because it is not tolerated.

    NHL owners encourage this garbage and should be named as accessories.

  3. Having lived my entire life in Canada, and having spent a large part of my adoloscent weekends at the local hockey rink, my opinion on this issue may be surprising to many.
    For about 10 years I have faced the ” hockey argument ” on an annual basis with my 13 year old son. Hockey in Canada is not just a sport to most, it is a religion. It is the dream that most young boys ( and their parents ) here in the Great White North strive to acheive. We decorate our sons ( and increasingly daughters )rooms with their favorite team colours, and take them annually to winter festivals displaying the Stanley Cup. We save up our pennies to be able to take them to at least one NHL game a season, and reward achievments with tickets to local OHL games. We buy them ” bobble heads “, posters, and figurines of their Hockey Heros “. On average, parents spend $1200 – $5000 a season for the potential glory of being able to say ” My kid scored that goal “.
    It is also the 1 sport that I have prohibitted my son from playing during the past 10 years.
    In his opinion ( direct quote )…….
    ” Chara has played in the NHL for 17 yrs now, and has always played fairly and by the rules. Being the big guy that he is I’m sure that he did not purposely hit Max in such a way to put him in the hospital. However, I personally believe that he does deserve a suspension. I do not think there should be criminal charges because hockey is a tough sport and you know what you’re in for when you sign up. ”
    The discussion this morning, on the radio station that I listen to on my way to work each day, was focussed on this issue. The grown men discussiong this issue shared the exact same opinion as my 13 year old son with respect to criminal charges being laid. In a nutshell, that represents the mentally when it comes to fights/injuries while skating on the ” battle rink “.

  4. Wootsy, perhaps you didn’t understand what I meant because your examples prove my point. My point was not that there are no serious injuries in hockey, my point was that they are not caused by fighting. Of all your examples of serious injuries in hockey only one of them had anything to do with what I was referring to when talking about fighting in hockey and it is 80 years old and from an era before helmets were worn. It was also a sucker punch which is a breach of the informal rules of engagement in hockey.

    Mespo, I’m not sure I follow your point. in your quote from me I was referring to your statement that some people excuse fighting because of the speed of the game, which I continue to believe confuses the issue of fighting with dangerous moves during regular game action. Your reply seems to be talking about something completely different.

    As for whether the argument in the Lori Henry quote makes sense, it does and it doesn’t. Fighting is a controlled and fairly safe outlet for players in a heated game. Without it, they would vent their frustrations in other ways. For instance, Evgeni Malkin, who is not a fighter, has a tendency to slew foot other players when he gets frustrated. This is far more dangerous than fighting. But the argument ultimately fails because if the NHL really cracked down on all dirty play (not just fighting) it all of it would be less of a problem. And the NHL should crack down on dirty and dangerous play, which is a point I partly made in my original post. However, I stand by my view that fighting in hockey is not particularly dangerous, so taking a harsher stand on fighting isn’t nearly as important as dealing with issues that actually cause serious injuries.

  5. Slapshot was an hilarious movie. I did have a little trouble believing Paul Newman in his role, but it was fun nonetheless.
    Great listing of just some of the serious problems with hockey injuries from fighting and from the game itself.

  6. OS:

    I stand in awe of your sports knowledge. The Reno Air Races take the prize for the world’s fastest sport. Bravo!

  7. Jandrew…nonsense….”Personally, I don’t watch hockey for fighting and I could do without it, but it also does not bother me much because it does not result in serious injuries.” …you say.;

    Ted Green
    Green’s skull was fractured as the result of a stick-swinging duel with Wayne Maki of the St. Louis Blues during a pre-season match in 1969. Green was left paralyzed on the left side of his body and close to death. A year of convalescence and conditioning brought on an impressive recovery.

    Max Pacioretty
    sustained a fractured vertebrae and severe concussion after being rammed into a rinkside post by Boston Bruins defenceman Zdneo Chara.

    Clint Malarchuk
    This goalie got his jugular vein cut during a NHL game in 1989. While watching his own blood leaving his body, all he wanted to do was not die on the ice. Two spectators at the arena suffered heart attacks and many of the hockey players were actually vomiting everywhere on the ice.

    Bryan Berard
    While playing for the Leafs in 2000, Berard accidently took the blade of Marian Hossa’s stick in the eye. Initially in the emergency room he was told that he would either never see again in the eye or completely lose it.

    Richard Zednik
    One of the most horrific one-ice incidents in the modern day NHL, Zednik’s external carotid artery was accidently sliced by the skate of teammate Olli Jokinen. Incredibly, Zednik instinctively covered his neck and while blood was squirting out of his body, he skated to the bench for help.

    Ace Bailey
    Irvine Wallce “Ace” Bailey was a nimble right wing on the Toronto Maple Leafs between 1926 and 1933. A blow the head, delivered from behind by Boston’s notorious bruiser Eddie Shore, cost Bailey a fractured skull and his career.

    Bill Masterson
    Bill Masterson’s death was the reason that NHL players began to wear helmets. The Minnesota North Stars center landed on the ice head-first after a vicious body check delivered by Oakland’s Larry Cahan and Ron Harris during a game in 1968.

    Howie Morenz
    The first person to die from an game injury was Howie Morenz, who played center for the Montreal Canadiens from 1923 until his death in 1937. His injury, a broken leg that he suffered from colliding with the boards after a mishap with Chicago’s Earl Seibert, killed him.

    ….are just a few from the NHL…

  8. Jandrew:

    “You are right that the argument makes no sense but that is because nobody makes that argument about fighting.”


    “Fighting has long been seen as a way to change momentum for a team who is losing or not playing well, and as a way to jumpstart lacklustre players. People like Don Cherry [host of “Coaches Corner” on Hockey Night in Canada] and Brian Burke [President and General Manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs] have been quoted as saying that if you remove fighting, more guys will be wheeled out on stretchers.”

    ~Lori Henry, Should the NHL Ban Fighting, Asks Gary Bettman
    The National Hockey League is Talking Rule Changes with GMs
    (Mar 11, 2009)

    You are right that nobody makes that argument who has any sense.

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