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EDITORIAL: Time well served


"Relax. It's just a game" is the catchphrase that Canadian Minor Hockey is using to try to get the parents of young hockey players to tone down their passion for the game - passion that tends more and more to spill over into violence both on and off the ice.

After watching the circus that is the National Hockey League this week, we think maybe that campaign should be aimed at a higher level.

Yes, hockey at the professional level is more than just a game - it's an industry worth literally billions of dollars to the players, owners and the economy of cities across North America.

But in one important aspect, it's just like the minors - none of it is worth dying for.

When the violence on the ice reaches the level where serious injury or death are genuine possibilities rather than freak occurrences, it's time to take some action.

After this horrible week in hockey it's safe to say that we've reached that level. Vancouver Canucks forward Todd Bertuzzi's sucker punch of Colorado Avalanche player Steve Moore is a bad omen for Canada's game.

It's clear that Bertuzzi, contrary to his teary assertions after the game, did mean to hurt his opponent - specifically to avenge Moore's hit on Bertuzzi's teammate, Markus Naslund, in a previous game.

Certainly he didn't intend to break his opponent's neck, but in allowing himself to lose control, that's exactly what happened - and that loss of control is the difference between acceptable violence in a game and assault.

The effects of these losses of control are felt long after the game ends, after the injured player recovers, after the sportscasters and the open-line callers fall silent and the suspension is served.

The effects are seen in our children, who idolize these "heroes" and attempt to emulate them. Even when they're punished - as Bertuzzi rightly has been by the NHL - the underlying message that violence is justified in some cases remains.

What can we do?

Telling overzealous parents, coaches and even players to "relax" is one thing. Having them hear it from those fallen heroes would be quite another.

Perhaps Bertuzzi could use some of the spare time he will have on his hands until training camp this fall to take the right message to the fans - especially to the youngsters who are just learning the game. He should tell them why what he did was wrong and how they should strive never to repeat the example.

That would be time well served.