Ten years on: Moore’s words cannot be forgotten

"My whole career... has been halted in its tracks."

In the Feb. 27, 2013 edition of The Georgia Straight, my feature (“Slow-moving NHL must tackle player safety”) noted how the Heritage Classic in B.C. Place Stadium was being staged the weekend before the 10th anniversary of Vancouver Canuck Todd Bertuzzi’s attack on Colorado Avalanche rookie Steve Moore during a game at Rogers Arena on March 8, 2004.

One of the ugliest nights in hockey history remains unresolved. Moore never played another professional hockey game. Bertuzzi wound-up without a criminal record and continues to play for the Detroit Red Wings. Moore, who has established a foundation to support concussion prevention and research, sued Bertuzzi and former Canucks’ owner Orca Bay for $38 million. A trial is scheduled to begin in September in Toronto.

The video clip of the incident has been viewed more than two million times on YouTube. I’m not going to repeat that here. What follows below is the victim impact statement that Moore filed with B.C. Provincial Court when Bertuzzi faced charges for assault causing bodily harm in December 2004. Bertuzzi copped a plea bargain and the judge declined to adjourn the trial until Moore could travel to Vancouver and address the court in-person.

Growing up with my two brothers in Thornhill, Ont., I had dreams of playing in the NHL for as long as I can remember. From the time I started skating at two and a half, to playing on my first hockey team at age four, my passion and love for the game only grew with time. I was extremely focused at an early age, and even in elementary school I was already channelling my energies toward pursuing a career in hockey. Every day when I got home from school, I headed out to the garage to shoot pucks, to improve my shot.

Then it was into the house for supper, finish up homework for school, and head back outside with my brothers, where we would play ball hockey on the street in front of our house, hour after hour. Every Saturday night, when we weren’t playing a game with one of our many teams, we would be at home huddled around the TV to watch Hockey Night in Canada. I loved watching my heroes play – Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux, among many others. I dreamed that one day I would be out there myself, playing in the National Hockey League.

Our parents encouraged all of us to pursue our dreams through hard work, and so we dedicated ourselves to trying to get better, every single day. Whether it was waking up in the early morning to go for a run, or heading to the gym for a weight workout, or going for an intense bike ride, or playing shinny on the frozen pond, we would continually push ourselves to improve.

There were difficult times for me along the way. At age 15, for instance, I was cut from five teams in one year. However with the encouragement and support of my family, I persevered through each setback. My hard work began to pay off eventually, at age 18, when I made the Tier II junior team in my home town, for the 1995-96 season. It was a major accomplishment, as this level of hockey was an important stepping stone for the next level after that: either major junior, or U.S. Division I college. Despite a very good year personally in Tier II, I was not drafted by any Major Junior teams, and returned to Tier II for another year. After the second year, in which I was a league-leading scorer, I was fortunate enough to win several scholarship offers, and decided to join my older brother Mark at Harvard University with the help of the school’s financial aid program. I was told by others that the demanding academic schedule would mean less time for hockey, but I was resolved to pursue my education as well as do whatever it took to realize my hockey dreams. After my first year at Harvard, I was drafted by the Colorado Avalanche, in the second round of the NHL draft. I played three more years at Harvard, leading the team in scoring three out of my four years. And in 2001, I captained the team in a very successful senior season, before graduating with honours that June.

After graduation, and another intense summer of training, I headed off to my first professional hockey training camp in September 2001, where I would get a chance to do what I have worked my entire life to be able to do – make an NHL team. The camp was difficult, but I was thrilled to earn the chance to play in my first NHL exhibition game. I spent most of that first professional season with Colorado’s top minor league team, the Hershey Bears, where I was honoured as the rookie of the year. I was also “called up” to Colorado to play with the Avalanche a number of times. My first game was in Nashville, Tenn., and I will never forget phoning home to tell my family that I would be playing in my first real NHL game. Nervously sitting in the dressing room before the game, I thought about the journey I had taken to arrive in that position. Passing through my mind were not only the sacrifices I had made along the way, but those of my family – their dedication, the countless hours spent watching me in freezing cold rinks, teaching on the frozen pond, coaching in the garage, the hours in the car, and the financial strain of expensive hockey equipment and out-of-town tournaments on our family’s tight budget. I was nervous, not only to be playing in my first regular season game, but because I was playing with some of my childhood idols. To my right sat Patrick Roy, to Roy’s left satRob Blake, and across the room sat Joe Sakic. I was living my dream – the same dream that so many other kids all across Canada and the U.S. and all over the world have growing up.

The summer after my first year of professional hockey, I trained harder than ever. I arrived at camp in the fall of 2002 in the best shape of my life, and playing the best hockey I had ever played. Again I earned a spot in an Avalanche exhibition game, and did well. I also spent most of that second season with Hershey, but again was called up to play games with the Avalanche several times throughout the year. During those short stays in Colorado my hard work was rewarded with promotions from the fourth line to the third line, and in some instances, to the second line.

The 2003-04 season turned out to be my breakthrough year. It was my third year pro, and I was more prepared and determined than ever and I felt like my hard work along with excellent coaching was helping me improve greatly. The calls up to Colorado came early and frequently, and my role on the team continued to expand. Before long, I was with the Avalanche for good. I was living out my life-long aspirations on a daily basis, now teammates with the players I have looked up to for years; Sakic, Blake, Peter Forsberg, Paul Kariya, Teemu Selanne and many others. I had gained the trust, and earned the respect of these players that I have always thought so highly of, and that meant a lot to me. The team was doing well, and I was excited to contribute, and my ice-time and responsibility increased as the games went on.

As the regular season was winding down, the race for first place in our division tightened. We were going back and forth with the Vancouver Canucks for the lead of our division. In the few games that were left to be played in the regular season, three of those games would be played head-to-head with the Canucks, the first of which was played on Feb. 16, 2004 in Denver. It was a close game from start to finish, with Vancouver scoring the only goal in the third period, and winning 1-0. During that game I had a collision with a Canucks player, Markus Naslund, which unfortunately resulted in his leaving the game with an injury. The referees were saying that it had been a clean play.

Canucks player Brad May immediately came after me anyway, and received a roughing penalty. After the game, Canucks players, head coach Marc Crawford, and general manager Brian Burke all were fuming about it. I expressed to the media my respect for Naslund as a player, and that it was unfortunate he was hurt on the play. I also asked a teammate of mine who knew Naslund well to call him and express my well wishes. At the request of the Canucks, the videotape of the play was reviewed again by the NHL head office and again it was established as a clean play.

I was very surprised and disturbed the next day to hear that public threats were being made against me and my health by people in the Canucks’ organization. I was called “a piece of shit” by Todd Bertuzzi. Bertuzzi also said “absolutely” retribution would be exacted upon me. It was said by another Canucks player. May said, “It’s going to be fun when we get him.” There was even a bounty placed on my head. These threats were being repeated on news channels across Canada and the U.S., and were quite alarming to me and very distressing for my family.

The promises for retribution and open threats made against me by various people within the Canucks’ organization were so widely known and of concern, that NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, as well as NHL executive vice-president Colin Campbell, felt it necessary to attend the next game between our two teams. This game took place more than two weeks later on March 3 in Denver, and it was understood that the presence of these top officials was to send a clear message that absolutely no violence against me would be tolerated. Nevertheless, despite their presence and warnings they made, players on the Canucks still verbally threatened throughout the entire game that they were going to “get” me, and that sooner or later I was “dead.” The game was a very close one though, ending in a 5-5 tie, which prevented any serious attempt to injure me.

The final regular season match-up between the two teams was five days later, on March 8 in Vancouver.

It was clear right from the start of the game that the Canucks still had their minds strongly set on going after me. They had now been promising to “get” me for three weeks. Those threats were seemingly all the media wanted to talk about. I thought it best for my team that I try to help put this increasing distraction behind us, and accepted a challenge to fight from Canucks player Matt Cooke. This was my first career fight. Meanwhile, our team was playing extremely well, and I scored a goal late in the first period which set an NHL record, capping off our team scoring the fastest five goals in NHL history and bringing our lead to 5-0. The threats being made against me by Canucks players only seemed to increase though, by seemingly every player that came within earshot. The unrelenting attempts to instigate fights with me also continued, and increased with the game now out of reach for the Canucks. Despite the Canucks obsession with trying to “get” me every time I stepped onto the ice, our team continued to try to play through it, and by the third period we were leading the game 8-2…

The next thing I knew, I was in a dark room, strapped down to a stretcher, with a neck brace on, having medical staff cut my equipment off of me. For a moment I was not sure if I was awake or asleep – until I realized I had woken up to a nightmare. What had happened to me? In a panic, I asked our trainer what was going on. I told him the last thing I knew was that I was playing a hockey game. How did I get here? Am I going to be all right?

I was brought on the stretcher out to a waiting ambulance, and taken to the emergency room of Vancouver General Hospital. My undergarments were stripped off of me, and I was connected to an IV, before I was taken from one room to another for test after test – MRJ, MRA, CT Scans, X-Rays, etc. It was all in a scary blur. Doctor after doctor came in to see me, and told me that we were awaiting details of the tests and did not yet know the extent of my injuries. After what seemed like hours, the doctor returned to my bedside. I was told I had a broken neck. My heart was in my throat. The doctor continued, saying that the fractures did not appear to be affecting the spinal cord, but was unsure yet whether the fractures were impinging the main blood supplies to the brain, the vertebral arteries. We were going to have to do another test to find out. I was whisked away again, for this important scan, and then awaited word on the results. The doctor reappeared a short time later, and I was profoundly relieved for him to tell me that there did not appear to be the need for any immediate surgical intervention, and that I would stay the night under the care of the emergency personnel, and would undergo more tests and evaluation in the morning. My parents, brothers, and girlfriend had been watching the game live on television at home, where they waited in terror for word on my condition, and they prayed. Of my 14 horror-struck relatives who attended the game, and were waiting at the hospital, one was allowed to see me and get some information to relay to my parents. They learned that my neck was broken and that we would find out more in the morning. Each of them, over the next few days, dropped everything in their own lives immediately, and caught flights as soon as possible to be with me.

I was bed-ridden in the Vancouver hospital for nearly a week, and was then   transferred to a hospital in Denver, where I would remain indefinitely. Upon my arrival, I went through a whole further batch of tests, scans, and doctor evaluations, which continued for days. I was inspected by neurologists, spine surgeons, orthopaedic surgeons, neuro-surgeons and neuro-psychologists, among others. In the end, I was told my injuries included three spinal fractures in my neck (C3, C4, and Tl), a very serious grade-three concussion, vertebral ligament damage, stretching of the brachial plexus nerves, along with the stitched-up facial cuts I was already well aware of. I spent days confined to my bed in my room, other than for a brief walk up and down the hall twice daily. It was over two weeks before I was even allowed to get outside for a breath of fresh air. I would lie in my hospital room and watch my teammates play without me night after night on television.

Eventually I was released from the Denver Hospital, and had to be moved into a new apartment building, as my existing apartment did not have an elevator and I was not capable of going up and down stairs. There, I was fortunate to have my family and friends take turns travelling across the continent to be with me, take care of me and assist in all the day-to-day requirements of living. This meant enormous sacrifices for everyone involved as my family put lives and careers on hold, missing weeks and even months of work, in order to be with me and help me through this difficult time. My parents run a small family business, and it was an excessive burden for them to be running the business from afar, as well as dealing with the injuries of their son. My girlfriend missed over a month of classes and work, jeopardizing her job, as well as setting her career development back a full year. My brothers and friends took turns leaving their busy lives behind to come out to Denver to look after me. It was a few weeks before I was able to attend my first game live since the incident. I was filled with mixed emotions as I was happy to be able to leave the apartment and be at the rink for an NHL game, and yet I was not going to be there in the same capacity that I always have been – surrounded by my teammates with them on the ice. It was a difficult position I was to face time and time again until the end of the season.

From that moment in the game on March 8, my reality has been completely altered. The immediate change in my life could hardly have been more drastic. I went from feeling deeply proud of finally, after so much hard work and overcoming so many setbacks, living my lifelong dream, skating alongside my childhood heroes in the NHL – to suddenly, lying in a hospital bed all day, dealing with severe pain, and prevented from sleep due to the discomfort of a rigid neck brace. The rest of the changes in my life, are still with me today: I am not able to play the game I love; I am not able to experience the reward of my entire life’s work; I am not able to do the things I normally, and so badly want to do; I do not know if I will ever be able to continue in the sport that I have devoted so much of my life to; and I do not know whether I will ever even be back to the same health again.

Dealing with this scary new reality has been incredibly difficult on many levels. Physically, the acute, intense pain in my head, neck and face that was with me for months has significantly improved, but the other negative effects of this I still feel every day. My daily life, even now almost 10 months since, shows little resemblance of the lifestyle I used to have. Active by nature, I now long for exercise, deprived for over three-quarters of a year. The post-concussion symptoms, including headaches, difficulty concentrating and dizziness, prevent me from any activity even resembling a workout. My weeks are still taken up with hours and hours of rehabilitation therapy. Inquisitive and intellectually astute all my life, I now hardly have the mental energy to get through an entire day. I try, often unsuccessfully, to guard against the depression and frustration that comes with not being as sharp, aware or focused as I normally am, and the consequences that go along with that. The enormous amount of stress and emotional turbulence this situation has introduced into my life, and that of my family, has taken its toll on all of us.

This incident has had a severe impact on my financial situation as well. The summer arrived, and it was to be a great summer for me, with my contract ending at the end of the 2003-04 season. It was a true breakout year for me, establishing myself on one of the pre-eminent teams in the NHL. I was playing a very important role supporting the more famous offensive stars, and gaining in ice-time to the point that I was playing more than some of the more recognized names on the team. There is no doubt that the Colorado Avalanche organization was appreciating what I was doing on the ice, and would be anxious to sign me to another contract. It was a bright future with a great organization and great players that I was really looking forward to. I would, finally, be able to reap the rewards of all the years of hard work I had put in, to eventually get to this point. The attack in Vancouver on March 8, however, changed all that. My contractual and financial situation has consequently been drastically compromised, for after playing through the comparatively low entry-level contracts of my first few years, this summer was to be my first chance at a contract of even average compensation. That chance has been lost. I now sit, without a contract, without an effort by the Avalanche to sign me, and without any contract offers at all. Even if I am to somehow make a recovery, and get back to game-playing condition, I still face the possibility that teams will see me as damaged goods, and avoid the perceived risk of signing me.

As I reflect on the impact this attack has had on me, both on my health and on my life as a whole, I am overwhelmed. There is not one single piece of my life where I do not find myself severely and profoundly affected. Everything has changed. The toll that all of these cumulative effects have had on my health and my life, and in my relationships with family and friends, cannot be measured. I think back to anxiously looking forward to being a part of the greatest championship in sports, the Stanley Cup playoffs; thrilled at embarking on such a monumental journey, with such special teammates. Those experiences were taken away from me, and I can never get them back. So many extraordinary experiences that I so unfairly missed out on, are now gone forever. My whole career, built upon the hard work, discipline and commitment of my entire life, and fuelled by a persistent dream, has been halted in its tracks.

My concerns now are no longer those shared with my teammates, such as whether we will win tonight or how I will play. My concern is, will I ever play again? And more fundamentally than that, how much of the damage to my health, physical abilities, mental capacities, family life, personal relationships and future, is permanent and irreparable?

The Victim Impact Statement Form provided to me by Crown Counsel asked me to comment on how I feel regarding contact with the accused. I have no desire to interact with him in any way. I would respectfully request that should I regain my health and someday be able to get back to playing, that Todd Bertuzzi never be permitted to participate in any sporting activity in which I am competing.

Steve Moore

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