The former captain of Canada’s world junior team has now been charged with assault causing injury months after he knocked Mikael Tam of the Quebec Remparts to the ice with an elbow to the head.
Cormier was suspended by the QMJHL for the rest of the season, a punishment that was supported by the National Hockey League and the American Hockey League, preventing the New Jersey Devils’ prospect from playing out the rest of the season as a professional.
Criminal charges, however, take things to a whole new level.
There is going to be a huge outcry over this – both positive and negative – and then gas will be poured on the issue during the first intermission of tonight’s broadcast of the Vancouver Canucks-Chicago Blackhawks game when the CBC’s Don Cherry is given some airtime on Coach’s Corner.
Hits to the head, French-Canadian players and the law weighing-in to judge hockey? Oh man. This is like the perfect storm of Cherry Pet Peeves.
In any event, a ton of ink is going to be spilled in over the possibility of a hockey player doing time for an act on the ice.
Of course, the big question is – should Cormier even be charged in the first place? It pains me to say it but, yes, he should.
As evidenced by the strong reaction of the Canadian Hockey League, the QMJHL and the NHL that play was definitely outside the normal parameters of safe play. Further, there’s an argument to be made that Cormier did it on purpose. The video evidence certainly makes it look like Cormier purposely targeted Tam.
Despite the protests of some fans, there is precedent for the law getting involved in overly-physical hockey disputes. In fact, it’s happened on 14 different occasions since 1900.
If that happened on the street it would undoubtedly result in the victim pressing charges, so why shouldn’t it on a rink?
It’s a bitter pill to swallow, but for justice to be completely done, Cormier must go through a criminal trial.
Please note there are a few clips on this video of Durette’s face after it’s been stitched up that are a little unsettling.
Scandella, a defenceman with the 2009 edition of the Canadian World Junior team, was suspended on Tuesday for 15 games by the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. Although the video hasn’t garnered nearly as much attention as the Patrice Cormier debacle, the suspension is in some ways more significant.
It marks a shift in QMJHL policy, and hopefully a shift in Canadian Hockey League policy. In the past the intent of the offending player was strongly considered when handing down a suspension, but now it seems that any headshot is punishable regardless of the level of malice.
Try comparing the Scandella incident to Cormier’s elbow-first hit of Mikael Tam and the suspension that followed.
When Scandella hit Durette it was in an honest attempt to gain control of the puck. In fact, it was because Durette was reaching for the puck, exposing his head to the check, that the blow was possible.
Also, had Durette stayed upright instead of leaning forward, it would’ve simply been a regular body check. Instead, his head was at the same level as Scandella’s shoulder.
By comparison, the video replay clearly shows that Cormier lifted his elbow up to hit Tam in the face. Also, Cormier hit Tam seconds after Tam had made a long pass into the offensive zone.
Even worse, Durette’s injuries were exasperated by his visor shattering and lacerating his face. That equipment malfunction isn’t Scandella’s fault.
Long story short: Scandella intended to hit Durette cleanly and gain control of the puck. Cormier targeted Tam’s head after he had released the puck.
However, compared to Cormier, Scandella has drawn a relatively stiff punishment. Previously, a malicious play like Cormier’s was an offence that would earn a suspension while an incidental hit with no intent to injure like Scandella’s, would be ignored or maybe result in a shorter suspension.
It now seems that intent carries less weight then it used to, and I’m alright with that.
Dangerous head shots (clean and dirty) have kept hockey in the headlines for all the wrong reasons and QMJHL commissioner Gilles Courteau has to do whatever he can to protect the players in his league and maintain the game’s profile.
"We will continue to be very stern regarding hits to the head as well as towards any gestures which could compromise the well-being of our players," said Courteau in a statement regarding the suspension.
I think that a 15-game suspension is fair given the off-ice situation in Quebec. Scandella will be able to return to the Foreurs in time for the playoffs (should they make it) and resume his career. As long as Scandella learns from Cormier’s mistakes and meekly accepts his forced vacation this should be just a minor note on his resume.
Patrice Cormier has had a change of heart, and all it’s going to cost him is what little credibility he has left.
The Rouyn-Noranda Huskies and Cormier announced yesterday that they would be appealing the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s season-long suspension of the 19-year-old forward.
“He could serve up to 48 games, that's too much,” said Huskies coach and general manager Andre Tourigny.
“I respect the decision of the QMJHL even if I find it too severe. I deeply regret the circumstances surrounding this event and I wish Mikael Tam a speedy and full recovery. Thanks for your attention,” said Cormier in a short statement read to the Canadian Press by telephone.
This is a departure from his statement Tuesday morning: “I fully respect the Quebec Major Junior League's decision regarding the Mikael Tam incident.”
Earlier this week I had criticized that particular statement by Cormier because there was no actual apology to Tam. He still hasn’t apologized and this appeal is much worse, adding insult to injury.
Cormier could have continued his career in, as Tourigny said, just 48 games. If he had accepted his punishment, acted contrite whenever asked about the incident and worked hard on the ice to develop as a player, he’d likely make the NHL within two years.
But now he’s rubbing some salt in the wound, and not winning over any supporters.
Although I felt that the suspension was a fair punishment for what was clearly a malicious hit, other corners were calling for a lifetime ban. I can only imagine the ink that will be spilled if Cormier’s suspension is shortened.
That said, I do understand the team’s motivation behind the appeal. Rouyn-Noranda paid a hefty price to acquire Cormier. Specifically, they sent two promising players in Michael Beaudry and Alexandre Mallet (both just 18 years old) as well as three first round draft picks and one second round draft pick to the Rimouski Oceanic for Cormier and Jordan Caron.
To lose one of those players to suspension for the rest of the season – and possibly for the rest of his junior career if he moves on to the NHL or AHL next year – cripples the Huskies playoff chances. Rouyn-Noranda’s playoff window is closing, and Tourigny knows that he gave up the team’s future is bleak without those four picks.
The problem is, of course, that although Cormier might not play again this season, he’ll definitely be playing somewhere next year. The same can’t be said for his victim, Mikael Tam.
Although Cormier’s suspension is a bitter pill to swallow, it did give him the opportunity to move on. The same can’t be said for Tam. Cormier should be counting his blessings, not the number of games he’ll be missing.
Of course they did. Really, it’s the only option the league’s disciplinarian had after the former captain of Canada’s World Junior tournament team laid Mikael Tamof the Quebec Remparts out with a vicious elbow.
But there are still lots of questions, the biggest and broadest of which is: where do we go from here? Not just Tam and Cormier, but the game itself.
By all accounts, Tam has already begun to recover. He hasn’t shown any signs of a concussion and he’s been released from the hospital. All good news, to be sure. But no one is sure if he’ll be able to re-join his teammates, or when. Sad when you consider that the 18-year-old defenceman was having a career season with 10 goals and 12 assists.
Cormier, of course, will be spending most of his time training on his own. Lou Lamoriello, the GM of the New Jersey Devils who drafted Cormier 54th overall in the 2008 draft, has already stated that the team will not place him in the American Hockey League or on any other teams affiliated with the Devils.
"We will honour the league's suspension, have not considered, and will not explore other avenues for his return this season," Lamoriello said in a press release.
This won’t be the end of Cormier’s career though. He's still a top-flight prospect who might be able to bounce back from this incident. Certainly, if he keeps his head down, his nose clean and continues to develop as a player, the Devils will have to consider calling him up to the NHL in the next few seasons.
Cormier has issued his own public statement, saying, in part, “I deeply regret the circumstances surrounding this event and wish Mikael Tam a speedy and full recovery."
No apology to Tam, just some best wishes. As so often happens in incidents like this, the injured party has to deal with the consequences of the play, while the offender is able to, eventually, resume their career. I wouldn’t want Cormier on my team, but the world of hockey has found roomin its heart to forgive a lot of players after similarly vicious incidents. Todd Bertuzzi is the first name that comes to mind.
And that brings us to the real problem: violence in hockey.
After all, everyone abhors Cormier’s cheap shot, but no one knows how to remove dirty hits from the game. I know that I enjoy watching a good hockey fight, as I think most people do, and there’s nothing like a good, solid hit. Hockey is an intrinsically violent game.
But there is a semi-permanent, translucent line in hockey that a player can cross where finishing their check somehow becomes a late hit. Standards seem to change case by case. This line needs to be better defined, with clearer consequences outlined. How else can hockey separate good violence from, for lack of a better term, bad violence?
I’m not sure. Hockey and hockey culture will always be physical, and tough players will always be admired. It would require an incredible sea-change to adjust the attitudes of players, coaches, officials and fans.
Suspending Cormier is certainly a good step. He’s a very visible junior hockey player, and as I mentioned in an article last week, he’s a repeat offender. It sends a strong message to the hockey community, and was the natural conclusion to a nasty chapter in QMJHL history.
Forcing Cormier, and other offenders at all levels of hockey, to engage in public awareness campaigns might be productive as well.
However, the most effective solution would be to force the offending player’s team to forfeit the game.
Had Quebec lost that game (the Remparts rallied to win 3-2 in the shootout), I feel that the QMJHL should have ruled the game as a forfeit for Rouyn-Noranda. If this became standard practice in junior and professional hockey leagues, I think it would create a sense of peer pressure that a cheap or dirty hit hurts the team in the standings, and players and coaches would do a better job of policing themselves. After all, no one wants to be directly responsible for costing their team a game, in addition to be suspended and fined.
It will take a huge, systemic change to eliminate dirty hits from hockey, but I think it’s time that better minds than mine began to apply themselves to this problem.
This video has been making the rounds Monday morning, and it’s pretty tough to watch.
At about the one-minute mark Team Canada’s world junior captain Patrice Cormier comes off the Rouyn-Noranda bench, skates through centre ice and lays out Quebec’s Mikael Tam with a vicious elbow to the head.
Ironically, of the three leagues that comprise the Canadian Hockey League, it’s the Q that has a reputation of a softer, finesse style of play that emphasizes goaltending and skilled scorers. The events of this weekend underscored the fact that this really is not the case.
According to TSN.ca: “Following the hit, Tam was convulsing on the ice before being taken off on a stretcher. Tam suffered trauma to the skull and brain and lost many teeth. He is now in stable condition in hospital and will remain under observation for at least two days.”
Although I followed the results of that game, the summary really didn’t do justice to the viciousness of that hit. After all, "Penalties: ROU - Patrice Cormier (03:32)(maj.), ROU - Patrice Cormier (03:32)(match)" isn't much of a story.
As TSN’s Bob McKenzie tweeted: “This Cormier elbow is sickening on so many levels. I have never been so discouraged about the game of hockey as now.”
The QMJHL’s Disciplinary Prefect, Raymond Bolduc, is currently investigating the incident, and the league will take action in the next day or two. I expect that Cormier is looking at some lengthy time away from the ice.
Watching the Tam video is reminiscent of Cormier’s hit in a preliminary World Junior Championship match against Sweden where he hit Sweden's Anton Rodin with an elbow and bloodied his nose.
I thought Cormier took unnecessary penalties throughout the WJC tournament, and his actions definitely hurt Team Canada’s performance in the playoff rounds.
Also on Sunday, Bolduc suspended Tommy Tremblay of the Shawinigan Cataractes for four games. Bolduc found that Tremblay had been the aggressor in a fight with the Victoriaville Tigers’ Guillaume Goulet.
The left-winger earned two game misconducts during the game, and the league tacked on another two after reviewing videotape of the incident on Saturday. Additionally, the Cataractes were fined $500.
I follow the QMJHL pretty closely, in fact, it’s my favourite junior hockey league. Although it’s not nearly as rough and tumble as the Western Hockey League, I think its physicality is under-rated.
Although line brawls (like the one that happened between the Vancouver Giants and Prince George Cougars Saturday night) are rare in Quebec, the QMJHL has its fair share of truculence.