Such is Canada's intractable fetish for hockey violence and poor sportsmanship that when a honest-to-goodness assault occurs on the ice, those who could do something about it put all the focus on the victim.
In January, during a game that had got out of hand, a Woodstock, Ont., midget hockey player named Nick Major had the effrontery to stop in front of the Brantford, Ont., team's goalie, sending ice shavings in his general direction. After Major was cross-checked to the ice — some retribution was inevitable — he was pulled to his feet and punched repeatedly by one of the Brantford players, who kept whaling on him even after he was down and in distress.
You can guess which breach of hockey etiquette stood out to the police when Major's parents, Julie and Wes, showed their video to law enforcement. It wasn't the continuing to hit a player who was already down. The Majors are now pressing their case with the CBC:
"The police, the parents say, essentially told them 'well, this is a chargeable offence; however, this is part of the game' and essentially that Nick had asked for this because he 'snowed the goalie.'
"Now the police tell us they are still investigating this five months later despite the video evidence and the league admits that several mistakes were made." (CBC.ca)
Odd how the hockey association, which suspended the Brantford player (his name should be withheld since he would fall under Canada's Youth Criminal Justice Act if charges are laid), got all confessional after national media rang them up about the incident. It is pretty galling that the player did not even have to offer an apology.
There is implied consent when someone plays a fast-paced contact sport, but it seems evident that players went too far in their zeal to protect their goaltender (whose body language didn't even suggest that he was put out by the alleged snow shower). Fighting is banned in midget hockey and players wear full face protection, so shouldn't it followed that there is no consent to having your helmet ripped off so someone can rain blows on your naked noggin?
Not exactly, in the considered view of Victoria lawyer Jordan Watt, a former goalie with the Western Hockey League's Kelowna Rockets and Ontario University Athletics' Ottawa Gee-Gees.
"You know I didn’t see anything out of the ordinary," said Jordan Watt. "That’s typically what happens in hockey games when something like that [snowing the goalie] happens to a goaltender."
He doesn't think charges are warranted and said young people should not face the prospect of a criminal record for playing hockey.
"When you sign up when you participate in sports specifically contact sports there is an implied consent ... you are agreeing to be involved in some kind of contact or some type of situation that we saw in this video." (CBC.ca)
Well-played, Watter (I know that's his nickname since he's a hockey player and his last name is Watt). Please keep in mind that comes from a highly skilled defence lawyer who knows how to keep broader philosophical questions out of court proceedings. One of those, well two really, is why is there still a segment of public opinion that considers this "typical" and why is it so entrenched?
It is open-ended, at best, whether any social good is served by laying criminal charges against a young athlete who loses his mind on the ice. It would be far better to employ some form of restorative justice, where the wrongdoers learn the error of their ways, correct their behaviour and lesson is passed down to younger people so that it's not repeated. Making an example of one young person whose victim's parents were recording the game? Call this cynical, but that will end up making the attacker a sympathetic figure.
It's probably moot in Canada so long as there is still a bias for not getting the law involved; even though there are enough widely publicized incidents that show there are too many bad apples among hockey players, coaches and fans to warrant this blanket amnesty. Other countries do not have this attitude; a court in the Netherlands recently put a 50-year-old father in prison for six years and sentenced seven players to a youth detention centre for their part in the beating death of an official.
A broken nose is a far cry from a fatality. The mindset was the same, lack of respect for the rules and inability to handle losing well. Since parents are always recording games, it makes it harder to defend the old boys-will-be-boys mentality. Especially when the evidence shows something that went well beyond it.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet. Please address any questions, comments or concerns to firstname.lastname@example.org.