Another Day, Another Head Shot
Fame and the limelight can do funny things to people. Exhibit A - Patrice Cormier.
Last year as a grinding, third- or fourth-line winger for Team Canada at the world junior hockey championships, Cormier was a hardhitting complement to the skill boasted up front by the likes of John Tavares and Cody Hodgson. Cormier, physically mature to the point he looked much older than his teammates, played well, staying out of the chippy trouble into which teammates like Stefan Della Rovere and Chris DiDomenico became immersed.
This year, as team captain, it was a totally different story.
Cormier was nasty and selfish from the beginning, with his first act a head shot on a Swedish opponent. During the tournament, he was occasionally dirty and always on the edge. One of his favourite manoeuvres - I witnessed it first-handed several times - was to punch opposing players in the stomach and groin area during scrums or battles along the boards. He was essentially to the 2010 team what Steve Downie was to the 2004 junior nats squad.
Word leaked out during the competition that he was going to be traded to Rouyn-Noranda, one of those appalling major junior deals in which teenagers are moved around in the middle of school years and seasons.
Canada struggled to keep its cool at various times during the tourney, with Cormier and Leaf prospect Nazem Kadri among the worst offenders. When head coach Willie Desjardins had to give the team a tonge-lashing after the second period of what ultimately became a semifinal victory over Switzerland for undisciplined penalties, Cormier was one of the objects of his ire.
In the end, Canada lost 6-5 in overtime of the gold medal game to the United States, and while Desjardins' coaching and Jake Allen's goaltending received the bulk of the critical reviews, Cormier's leadership of that team was one of the factors that went largely ignored.
He wasn't a great player for Canada. It's hard to say whether he was a good captain.
But almost immediately upon returning to junior and joining his new team, Cormier has found himself in serious hot water over last weekend's head shot incident in which he came off the bench during a line change and cold-cocked Quebec defenceman Mikael Tam.
Tam has left hospital, and Cormier has been indefinitely suspended and may well be banned for the rest of this QMJHL season, which essentially would mean the remainder of his junior career.
Throughout hockey, head shots are now the No. 1 issue, intriguing given that the majority of hockey fans insist that fighting - repeatedly punching an opponent in the head - is an integral part of the sport.
It's become a gigantic problem in youth hockey, where boys and girls are having hockey careers ended at shockingly early ages by concussions. Junior hockey is trying to deal with the issue with long suspensions, while the NHL seems paralyzed, unable to enact even small changes that would limit the ability of players to smash opposing players in the head and cause concussions.
Earlier this season, Philly captain MIke Richards demolished Florida's David Booth with an unpenalized, blindside head shot, and Booth hasn't been the same since. Once a favourite to make the U.S Olympic team, in the end he wasn't chosen by GM Brian Burke.
So Cormier, a second-round draft pick of the New Jersey Devils, probably felt that decking Tam was, within his sphere of reference, not a terrible thing to do. He'll have to be a physical player to make in the NHL, and play on the edge.
Until all of hockey legislates against this stuff, decides collectively that hitting an enemy player in the head under any circumstances is over the edge, this will continue.