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Local hockey fans: Keep violence in check

March 15, 2004|by BRIAN SHAPPELL

shappell@herald-mail.com

What Vancouver Canucks forward Todd Bertuzzi did a little over a week ago "is not hockey."

That's what many parents, coaches and staff members attending a youth hockey tournament at the Hagerstown Ice & Sports Complex said about the professional hockey player's recent violent outburst during a game.

Many believe such incidents are hurting the popularity of youth hockey and making it harder for coaches and parents to teach children the game.

For many of those attending the Kiwanis Club of Hagerstown 2004 Hockey Tournament, the attack by Bertuzzi on another player during a March 5 National Hockey League game is a serious concern.

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Justin Grimm, a supervisor at the Hagerstown complex, said he heard a boy talking to his father Sunday about Bertuzzi's actions ask, "Is that OK?"

Grimm said some physical incidents have occurred at the local arena, especially among teen players, but not on the "malicious" level of some professional hockey incidents.

"It's a physical sport, but as far as going after someone from behind and bringing them to the ice, you don't see that here," he said.

Al Fitzpatrick, business manager for a Squirts youth team from Wheeling, W.Va., that was playing Sunday in Hagerstown, said he believes it is crucial for parents and coaches to talk to young players, especially teens.

"They want to feel more like the NHL players. They want to appear tougher," Fitzpatrick said. "I lectured my sons that there's no place for it. That's not hockey."

During the NHL game between the Canucks and the Colorado Avalanche, Bertuzzi punched Steve Moore from behind and drove him face-first into the ice. Moore, who is not expected to play again this season, suffered a concussion, facial laceration and a fractured vertebra.

Bertuzzi was suspended for the remainder of the 2003-04 season and the playoffs.

Mark Alpern, a parent of an 8-year-old member of the Hagerstown Dogs Mites team, said such strict suspension terms send the right message to youth players.

"They know if you do something like that, you'll get a penalty for it," Alpern said. "I think it deters things."

However, people such as Alpern and his wife, Linda, who run the Cross Sticks Pro Shop at the complex, said they believe violence is not as much an issue with players in Mite youth leagues because checking and other physical acts are not permitted.

Bryan Kenworthy, president of the Hagerstown Youth Hockey Association and assistant coach for two Mite teams that competed Sunday, said he is concerned because it is easy for youths to mistakenly believe violence is part of the sport.

"You try to make it very clear that you don't get anywhere by breaking the rules, and that if they do, they won't be playing," Kenworthy said.

Kenworthy said those incidents are hurting youth hockey because some parents are reluctant to sign up their children.

"They think their kid is going to get beat up and that's not the case at all," Kenworthy said. "We're trying to get people over that perception."

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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