I actually wrote this yesterday, but then the Debacle of Otherworldly Proportions happened and I got distracted. Anyways, here's my two cents on the Cormier issue:
I don't know much about Patrice Cormier's junior career outside of his stints with the Canadian national Junior team and, obviously, recent developments, but his use of his elbows to inflict damage on opposing players has earned him comparisons to a young Chris Pronger. Cormier, as TSN's Bob McKenzie points out, had a reputation as a hard-working, physical, energy guy before this year's World Junior Championship, but still had a tendency to cross the line and has been suspended previously, for two games in 2008.
Discipline was an issue for Cormier at last year's tournament, and when he delivered two dangerous hits to the head to Sweden's Anton Rodin and Finland's Teemu Hartikainen during pre-competition play, those problems were reinforced. After head coach Willie Desjardins had a little chat with Cormier and stressed the importance of discipline with all his players, it seemed he had turned a corner and made limited trips to the sin bin for the remainder of the tournament. Then comes this hit on the Remparts' Mikael Tam. I suppose it could be argued that since Cormier didn't face any supplementary discipline for his actions at the WJHC and wasn't forced to own up to anything, he didn't learn from his mistakes. The case can also be made that the two incidents involving Cormier weren't the only displays of "dirty" play at the tournament. However, this hit and the resulting injury represents a new level of irresponsible, disrespectful, and just plain stupid play.
Cormier was escorted off the ice while medical staff attended to the eighteen-year-old defenceman, who was experiencing seizures and reportedly stopped breathing for thirty-seconds. He was listed as in stable condition, with a broken jaw, missing teeth, and "trauma to the skull and brain," and has been released from hospital after results from a brain scan were deemed "normal." The QMJHL has responded by suspending Cormier indefinitely, and the Quebec Remparts are supposedly considering pressing criminal charges, likely citing intent to injure due to the way Cormier leapt off the bench on a line change and made a beeline for a vulnerable Tam.
Devils GM Lou Lamoriello defended his prospect, saying he spoke with Cormier and doesn't believe a season-long suspension is necessary. Defending a member of your organization is understandable and commendable, but surely Lou would feel differently if the roles were reversed and it was his player laying motionless on the ice after a vicious hit? Does he really want to take the chance that Cormier will repeat his actions at the NHL level? Chris Pronger has earned a reputation for dirty and undisciplined play; he isn't going to win any sportsmanship awards, but he's a leader and a winner, and is still one of the most effective defencemen in the league. It's too early to tell whether or not Cormier will follow the same path.
Perhaps there was a little bit of bad luck involved. Maybe the intent to injure wasn't there as it appears in the video. We will probably never know, but there is no question that there is no place for Cormier's actions in the game of hockey, especially at the junior level. If junior hockey is going to turn the corner and make an example of Cormier, now is their chance. It must be frustrating to be Colin Campbell, David Branch, or Gill Courteau. It seems like no rules and no disciplinary actions are forceful enough to dissuade players from making irresponsible, reckless decisions on the ice. This is an ongoing and disturbing trend amongst not only Canadian junior hockey players, but NHL-level players as well, and it needs to be stopped at all costs. Hockey is a tough sport, without question, and is not for everyone, but players' lives are being endangered; there is a lot more than the sanctity of the game at stake here. Admitting that our game is flawed is perhaps the hardest part, but it's a necessary first step in finding a solution.