Colorado led 5-0 after the first period with Steve Moore fighting Vancouver‘s Matt Cooke. The bad blood and vows for revenge Vancouver had for Steve Moore appeared to have ceased. Unfortunately, that would not be the case.
Sportsnet writer, Iain MacIntyre, recalls Todd Bertuzzi’s infamous attack on Steve Moore
By Brandon Yip, Senior Columnist
In the 2003-2004 NHL season, Steve Moore was a rookie playing for the Colorado Avalanche. He played on the fourth line before injuries moved him to the line with Joe Sakic and Paul Kariya. Oftentimes a player, who wants to remain in an NHL lineup, needs to do something to be noticed. This entails delivering a hard body check, getting into a fight or scoring a goal.
On February 16, 2004, in a game with Colorado hosting Vancouver, Steve Moore did something to be noticed—by putting a questionable hit Canucks star player, Markus Naslund. Naslund was injured as he suffered cuts to his face, a chipped bone in his elbow and a concussion (Naslund missed the next three games). There is an unwritten rule in the NHL that you do not hit a star player—especially if the player is in a vulnerable position. It is off-limits, but Steve Moore did not heed that advice.
Moore was not given a penalty. Sportsnet reported in a September 2014 article the NHL ruled the hit was legal. The Vancouver Canucks disagreed. Canucks coach, Marc Crawford, was livid after the game. Naslund’s teammates were furious as well. Todd Bertuzzi told the media that Steve Moore was a “piece of shit,” with Brad May stating there was now a “bounty” on Moore‘s head—as reported by CBC News. The seeds for pugilistic justice had been planted. Then Vancouver general manager, Brian Burke, was dissatisfied that Moore did not receive a suspension. “I think it’s a marginal player going after a superstar with a headhunting hit,” Burke said as reported by The New York Times.
Before Naslund’s injury, he was the leading scorer in the NHL. Naslund was playing on the famous “West Coast Express” line with Todd Bertuzzi and Brendan Morrison. It was one of the most productive lines in the NHL in the early 2000s. The Canucks and Avalanche met again on March 3, 2004. But it would be a civil affair, with no retribution by the Canucks. It should be no surprise due to NHL Commissioner, Gary Bettman, being in attendance—issuing warnings to both teams before the game started. Steve Moore, who had the biggest target on his back, would get away unscathed.
This set the stage for the Canucks’ next meeting against the Avalanche on March 8, 2004, at then GM Place (now Rogers Arena). It was the third meeting between the two teams in 21 days. And it was a fitting foreshadowing that the game occurred on a Monday night and was televised on Sportsnet. Colorado led 5-0 after the first period with Steve Moore fighting Vancouver‘s Matt Cooke. The bad blood and vows for revenge Vancouver had for Steve Moore appeared to have ceased. Unfortunately, that would not be the case.
At the 8:41 mark of the third period, with Colorado leading 8-2, Todd Bertuzzi followed Steve Moore in the Canucks’ zone. Bertuzzi tugged on Moore’s jersey before punching him in the back of the head before falling on top of him as reported by CBC News. A dog pile ensued as fans cheered as Bertuzzi had finally settled the score with Moore. But soon the noise inside GM Place turned to silence. Steve Moore was severely injured. A pool of blood surrounded Moore’s face as he lay motionless on the ice. He was placed on a stretcher and taken to the hospital. Colorado won the game by a score of nine to two. But at that point, the game was an afterthought. Moore suffered a concussion and three fractured neck vertebrae. He never played another NHL game.
Sportsnet writer, Iain MacIntyre, was inside GM Place the night Todd Bertuzzi attacked Steve Moore. MacIntyre was then covering the Canucks for the Vancouver Sun. He said it was a very dark moment for the NHL. “The crowd reaction, I think, was indicative of most people’s feelings: there was a bloodlust for retribution on Moore for the hit on Naslund, then horror after it occurred,” he said in an email interview with the Other Press. “It was clear after about 10 seconds that Moore was badly hurt, and I’ll never forget how instantly the mood in the arena changed. Afterwards, I was told that Bertuzzi had wept in the dressing room over what he had done, and what it would mean for both [him] and Moore. As I wrote at the time, they were the two unluckiest guys in hockey that day.”
CBC News reported three days after the Moore injury that Todd Bertuzzi had been suspended by the NHL for the remainder of the 2003-2004 season including the playoffs. The Vancouver Canucks were also fined $250,000. Bertuzzi’s suspension lasted 17 months, coinciding with the NHL lockout (310 days duration) that cancelled the 2004-2005 NHL season.
In June 2004, criminal charges were filed against Bertuzzi for his attack on Steve Moore. CBC News reported in December 2004, Bertuzzi plead guilty to “…criminal assault causing bodily harm for the hit. He [was] sentenced to one-year probation and 80 hours of community service.” A decade passed before the Steve Moore and Todd Bertuzzi saga finally ended. In August 2014, Moore and Bertuzzi and the Vancouver Canucks settled with the terms confidential. CBC News reported Steve Moore had originally filed a civil suit in 2006, seeking $68 million in damages.
Ultimately, the biggest lesson to be learned from the Moore and Bertuzzi incident 18 years ago is there are consequences if you hit and especially injure a star player in a vulnerable position. When Steve Moore made the fateful decision to hit Markus Naslund, causing serious injuries to the then leading scorer in the NHL, many knew there would be retribution. Unfortunately, the Vancouver Canucks and Todd Bertuzzi took the retribution too far.
Iain MacIntyre believes the Bertuzzi and Moore incident revealed how overt verbal threats of violence are just as harmful as the violence being delivered: “Obviously, you can’t sucker-punch somebody from behind. Everyone’s career is potentially a knee tear, skate cut, high stick or a punch away from ending. One thing that will never happen again in the NHL [is] players from one team publicly threatening the physical well-being of an opponent with the promise of revenge. In hindsight, those threats from the Canucks were [as] damaging as the incident itself.”