Nothing else springs to mind to describe the return of Todd Bertuzzi to Colorado on Thursday night. It was his first game in Denver since before March 8, 2004, back when men were men and Steve Moore had a hockey career.
There was no unusual violence between Bertuzzi’s Vancouver Canucks and the Colorado Avalanche. No revenge, no repercussions, just a hockey game.
Afterward, Bertuzzi showed no regret, no sorrow, no shame. Maybe in the months that have passed since he broke Moore’s neck with a sucker-punch to the back of the head followed by a face-plant into the ice, Bertuzzi has learned to cope with those emotions.
Maybe he has moved beyond them.
Maybe it’s wrong to even wonder if they exist.
But this anticlimactic night ended with 30 reporters and seven cameras surrounding Bertuzzi’s locker with a million post-game questions. Bertuzzi waited to appear, and once he finally did, he struck an all-right-what-do-you-want pose in another corner of the room. It prompted the horde to dart to him, to circle him there. Bertuzzi fielded the first query, a softball about Vancouver’s listless 6-2 loss, by saying the team’s effort in the first two periods cost the Canucks the game.
Then the questions turned to matters at hand, beginning with one zabout the thousands of fans who booed every moment Bertuzzi took the ice.
“It is what it is,” he responded.
What did he hear?
“It is what it is.”
Will Denver’s fans ever forgive him? Does it matter?
“It is what it is.”
What does that mean?
“Read into it,” Bertuzzi answered, his eyes finally gazing up from the ground. “You’re pretty intelligent. It is what it is. What am I going to do about it?”
Midway through the third period, Bertuzzi skated into a corner during a timeout. As finger-waving fans voiced their opinions, Bertuzzi stretched his neck, stared straight ahead and flaunted nothing but indifference.
Moments earlier, Bertuzzi had whiffed on a wide-open chance before a yawning net. Earlier that period, Avs goalie David Aebischer had denied him from point-blank range. The Canucks star had an assist but little impact on this game, and even though the prevalent boos became just another part of the atmosphere, maybe they actually had some impact. But Bertuzzi would never admit to that.
“He better get used to it,” Colorado’s Ian Laperriere said. “He’s going to play for another 10 or 15 years, and he’s going to hear it for another 10 or 15 years from these fans.”
Bertuzzi comes across as someone annoyed with the fuss his presence creates. But it won’t subside soon. The teams play at the Pepsi Center again Saturday.
Players from both clubs said in the days leading to Thursday that they had moved on. Sorry — that idea stinks.
After March 8, 2004, the NHL suspended Bertuzzi indefinitely, which turned out to be through the rest of 2003-04 and the league’s 310-day lockout. It did not allow him to play in the 2004 World Cup of Hockey, in two world championships and in any European League.
Bertuzzi lost, according to reports, $501,926.39 U.S. in salary and more in endorsements. But this is the NHL, where you can break a guy’s neck with an intentional and pre-meditated act, jeopardize his livelihood, his very life, and still return to work a year later no worse off.
The idea of Bertuzzi suffering physical trauma like that he delivered to Moore is also wrong. An eye for an eye makes us all blind, as Martin Luther King and others told us. It’s important to keep in mind this whole mess started as retribution for an unpenalized hit Moore delivered on Vancouver’s Markus Naslund.
Who knows what Bertuzzi sees now? Who knows what the NHL sees now?
Still, what we’ve moved on to is ugly and unsettling. It’s where one man wonders if he’ll ever play hockey again as he mulls legal action, and another man suffers only the burden of boos and catcalls.
This is a circle of reality that is unjust. It forces the inevitable conclusion that when the great poet Dante described his circles of Hell, he forgot one.
It might just be what it is.
Can’t we do better?