Steve Moore is 35 years old. He should be in the twilight of his career right now, if not for the events of March 8, 2004. Who knows? He might even be playing against Todd Bertuzzi this week, two veteran players enjoying the final stretch of successful careers.
But we all know that's not how the last decade has played out.
Saturday marks the tenth anniversary of the infamous Steve Moore-Todd Bertuzzi incident, a moment that thrust the National Hockey League's penchant for physicality and violence into the national spotlight and sparked a debate that rages on to this day.
Moore, then a Colorado Avalanche forward, had already fought with Matt Cooke earlier in the Avalanche's blowout 9-2 win. In the third frame, Vancouver Canucks forward Bertuzzi challenged Moore to a fight near center ice. When Moore ignored him, Bertuzzi punched him in the back of the head and drove him face-first into the ice.
After laying in a pool of his own blood for a few minutes, Moore was stretchered off the ice and taken to a hospital. His diagnosis was grim: three fractured vertebrae and a concussion. Steve Moore's hockey career was over at the age of 25. He was just a rookie.
Bertuzzi was suspended for the rest of the season and the playoffs.
Ten years later, the incident still lacks closure. Moore's $38 million lawsuit against the Canucks and Bertuzzi has dragged on for a decade without resolution. A court date has finally been set for September of this year.
But even if he wins the case, the monetary compensation won't give back everything Moore has lost over the last decade.
"I can't recover anything else. I can't recover my career, the experience of living out my dream from the time I was two and half years old of playing in the NHL."
"Everything I watched my peers go through the last 10 years," he said. "I've watched the careers they've had and I can't get any of that back."
Although Bertuzzi is one of those peers, the aftermath of the incident has robbed him of something too: his reputation. Bertuzzi went on to have a fine NHL career. He's been to the playoffs nine times. He has over 300 goals and 700 points. He has thirteen seasons with double digit goals. Bertuzzi's numbers are pretty darn impressive.
But despite his statements of regret after the incident and his lack of significant NHL discipline since his season-long suspension expired, many fans still view him as a dirty player. It's something he will never shake. It's part of his legacy. It's the stain in his bio people will point to when he becomes eligible for the Hall of Fame. He robbed himself of a clean legacy, and he can never get it back.
The NHL, in one way, has gained from the incident. Yes, people were calling for the league to be shut down immediately afterwards. There's no question that hockey's reputation also took a serious hit. But the league has slowly begun to weed out that kind of reckless violence that it was associated with after that game. Fighting is penalized more heavily. The Department of Player Safety has cracked down on players with more suspensions and fines. Whether this is a direct result of the Bertuzzi attack or just natural progression as safety becomes a big sports issue is up for debate. However, one could argue that the league is safer than it was ten years ago.
But even Moore knows the NHL's work isn't done.
"Over the last few years, with the number of concussion injuries, especially with high-profile players, the public has been educated in a major way, but we still have a long way to go not just in making people aware of this, but in avoiding them and treating them," he said.
The NHL has made steps in the right direction over the last decade. But for the two main players involved in the attack, no amount of change in the NHL now will return what they've lost since that terrible night.