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Sergei Zubov pictured in May 2008 (Photo: Louis DeLuca)
According to research carried out by Abigail Tracy of Vocativ, it has been estimated that some 800 major league football players have been in trouble with the law, even to the point of being arrested, since the year 2000. Competitors from pay-for-play basketball have comparable records. But, apparently, major league baseball and NHL representatives have been eight times less likely to be caught with the legal pants down.
Ms. Tracy’s specific conclusion was these athletic mercenaries prove to be very poor role models in light of these scandals. But from a statistical perspective alone, it casts a dark shadow on the entire sports scene in Canada and the United States.
A cursory search for similar statistics relating to NHL’ers proved to be fruitless. However, a hop, skip, and jump through shinny’s headlines over the last 20 years uncovered at least 55 instances where the ice game’s gladiators have either tangled with the law or the lawless—with police agencies of one stripe or another, and with openly criminal elements in society.
One scribe opined that the majority of pro pucksters have been caught at one time or another, charged with driving under the influence. Indeed the list seems almost endless. Eddie Shack, Bobby Hull, Chris Pronger, Ken Daneyko, Dominik Hasek from a generation ago, and more current competitors Nikolai Khabibulin, Alexei Zhamnov, Ryan O’Reilly, and Ryan Malone are some who have run afoul of this basic traffic law.
Winnipeg Jet’s Dustin Byfuglien put a spin on that familiar cement-head move in 2012. He was operating a boat on Lake Minnetonka in Minnesota when “big brother was watching him” as he messed up for the same violation on water instead of the highway.
Brawls in bars seem almost as popular as a way to tarnish one’s good image. In 1989, Al MacInnis was involved in a dust up outside a Calgary restaurant just 48 hours previous to his wedding. He faced assault charges using bodily harm—partly due to a man being hospitalized after being kicked in the groin.
Five years later Joe Thornton aped this monkey business in a tavern in his hometown of St. Thomas, Ontario. His excuse was that he came to his brother’s aid who was facing arrest. That he had assaulted a police officer added to his rap.
Probably the most difficult to understand misdemeanors involve theft or attempted theft. With most skaters in the world’s premier league drawing annual stipends of at least one million dollars, the motive for such exploits seems incredible.
Back in 1983, All-Star Chris Chelios, while training for the Olympics, was arrested for stealing a woman’s purse and running away with it. The theft took place in Anchorage, Alaska, where he was keeping company with an unnamed woman. Suddenly he grabbed the bag and took off. He was easy to track because he was wearing a U.S. Olympic team sweater.
Chris Nilan, whose belligerent approach to the game earned him the nickname “Knuckles”, got some more punching practice in 2009. He and a friend went into a men’s store to “try on” a Bermuda Shorts-style bathing suit. He took three into the change room, but came out with only two (the other one was under his clothing). When he was accosted by security guards, he resisted and got into a scuffle with them.
Patrick Cote, former enforcer with the Nashville Predators, made the mistake of stealing a car which wasn’t running very well. When it quit he found himself approached by police. Their questioning led to his arrest for robbing two banks in Montreal—which resulted in a 30-month jail sentence.
But the coup de grace, as far as sheer idiocy is concerned, must be credited to Chicago’s Patrick Kane. In 2008, he and his cousin punched the driver of a taxi in which they had ridden because he didn’t have 20 cents change after they had paid the fare. They had given him $15.00—even less than small change for a millionaire hockey player. Not only was the cabbie assaulted, but they took the original payment back!
Disrespect for the opposite sex, expressed in various ways, demonstrates how low some hockey “he-men” can sink—relating both to moral law and that of civilized society.
Billy Tibbetts seemed to be in trouble with the law all the time. In 2001 he was serving 3 ½ years in three Massachusetts prisons for assault with a deadly weapon. But in 1994 he had been charged with statutory rape.
A year later, Joe Corvo, while a member of the L.A. Kings organization, grabbed a woman’s buttocks in a bar. He was thrown out of the establishment for his trouble. But his temper, which had always been close to the surface, took over. He rushed back into the building, punched her in the face, and then kicked her where she lay on the floor.
The problem has always been, with scenarios of this kind that, while there seems to be no doubt about the two former incidents, public figures like hockey players can easily be victims of false accusations. Some women, seeking publicity, holding a grudge, or just bearing an anti-male mind-set, may yell “rape”, leaving the accused standing with his innocence hanging out.
That was the case with Doug Gilmour. While playing in St. Louis he was accused of sexual impropriety involving his 13-year-old baby sitter. As it turned out, it was the girl’s family who ended up being charged. It was revealed their million dollar lawsuit was merely a sham to extricate money from the star hockey player.
The case against Eric Lindros made headlines in no uncertain terms. He was accused of throwing beer and spitting in the face of a woman in a Whitby bar in 1992. He was alleged to have been part of a group of men from which this atrocity originated. He was exonerated on the grounds of lack of sufficient evidence. His biggest mistake was being on the scene where this atmosphere prevailed.
Whether it can be interpreted as stooping one level lower in any mistreatment of the fair sex when the victim is one’s spouse, is arguable. But foisting indignities of any nature on a person’s wife is inexcusable. Sadly there are too many incidents of this kind involving NHL’ers.
One of the first instances of this effrontery involved Florida Panther’s Mark Fitzpatrick in 1994. His wife accused him of kicking, grabbing, and shoving her during an argument. The charge of aggravated domestic battery was upgraded to the next level because she was pregnant at the time.
1998 was not a banner year for the spouses of two NHL players. Sergei Zubov was charged with aggravated assault and family violence when his wife was injured during a squabble. The police claimed that he was wielding a knife, and a deadly weapon charge was also involved.
Sean Burke was placed on 18 months probation as a result of assaulting his wife. He was fined $200 and court costs.
In 2000, Michelle Roy, wife of Hall of Famer, Patrick Roy, phoned 911 when she became frightened about what her husband might do, as they argued over the subject of in-laws. In a fit of temper, he had torn two bedroom doors off their hinges. He was not formally charged but a restraining order was issued.
One of the more recent incidents of this kind resulted in Slava Voynov of the Kings being sentenced to 90 days in the hooskow. He was charged with domestic violence, when he abused his wife at a Halloween party.
Dino Cicarelli was one of the first modern-day major hockey leaguers to be charged with assault as the result of an on-ice confrontation. That was in 1988. But a year earlier he got his knuckles rapped for a very public misdemeanor. One morning he neglected to finish dressing and ventured outside wearing only his socks and a sweatshirt. A neighbour, who didn’t appreciate the impromptu strip show, called police. He was charged with indecent exposure.
With Bryan Fogarty his exposure was less public—but just as real. This violation was secondary to a break and enter charge. In July of 1999, he broke into the Tollgate Technological Skills Centre in Brantford. He was found standing in his birthday suit, with cooking oil spilled on the floor all around him.
Even more bizarre is the report about Dave Silk and Red Berenson. The former was remembered for representing his country in world hockey competition. But for some unexplained reason, in 1980 he dropped his guard and was found urinating against a garage in Lake Placid.
That Red Berenson should be connected with such an infantile indiscretion seems incredible. The scholarly carrot-top seemed to carry a kind of dignity wherever he went. But in 1994, while sporting the coach’s mantel at the University of Michigan an officer videotaped him urinating against the wall of the library in Ann Arbour. This led to his arrest for drunk driving.
To be sure, the ultimate crime is the taking of another human life. Because of the widespread publicity surrounding four instances of pucksters being called to account for that violation of the law, it is scarcely necessary to do more than simply leave a reminder of those tragedies.
In 1994, Jimmy Boni pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of manslaughter as the result of slashing an opponent in an Italian hockey league contest. The blow to the chest resulted in death of that player.
In 2003, Dany Heatley was indicted for vehicular manslaughter as the result of the death of his friend and teammate, Dan Snyder, in a car crash.
In 2007, Keith Magnuson died in an auto accident, in a vehicle driven by Rob Ramage. In addition to the motor manslaughter charge, an impaired driving indictment was added.
There certainly was nothing “accidental” or “unintentional” about Mike Danton’s plans in 2009. The FBI arrested him in light of his attempt to hire a “hitman” to remove a threat on his own life. He and Danton had argued earlier, and he felt he needed to protect himself from a similar fate.
After all that gloom and doom, any scrap of light-heartedness would seem welcome.
In 1988-89 Ken Yaremchuk was sporting the Blue and White of the Toronto Leafs. During some leisure hours in Los Angeles, on his first trip to Lotus land, he had sampled too much liquid laughs, and was feeling his oats. He removed his coat on a busy downtown street and began to use it as a matador’s cape on approaching traffic. He experienced the strong arm of the law to put his shenanigans to rest.
And, while former free-spirited Glenn Anderson would fail to see any humour in it, the 2002 headline about him is at least worth a chuckle. On that occasion he was in trouble for failing to pay child support for his 13-year-old son. He owed a total of $112,000, an accumulation of four years of a delinquency. His best salary was divvied out by the Maple Leafs in 1993-94, when he realized $1.25 million for that campaign. Some bad math rather obvious here.
The height of criminal activity in shinny circles, must surely have taken place on February 29, 2000. Defenseman Darius Kasparaitis was caught jaywalking in Calgary. When he expressed himself too loudly in protest, the police officer threatened to deport him. Either the cop knew him because of his status in the NHL, or his speech betrayed the fact that he was not native to Canada.
Remembering that this missive concerns not just the “law”—in the sense of running afoul of its standards—but also the “lawless”, we conclude part one with a reference to NHL’ers being victims of the criminal element as well.
For instance, in 1984, when Flyers engaged Atlanta in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, Coach Fred Shero was mugged outside his hotel following a team meeting. Two men jumped him, and, while he suffered only a few external scratches, he did complain of dizzy spells. He flew back home, leaving the club in charge of Assistant Coach Mike Nykoluk for game four. His usual flippant response to it all surprised no one. “The Lord must have loved muggers because He made so many of them!”
In 1992, goalie Dan Bouchard was toiling for Roanoke City Rebels. Following a loss to Greensboro on March 24, he and teammate Ken Moran had stayed in their motel, while the rest of the team went out for a late-night meal. They were eating pizza in the their room about 12:30 a.m. when an armed intruder grabbed Bouchard and put a gun to his head. While this was happening, two more thieves entered. They were bound and gagged and told to lie on the floor. One of the culprits was angered at not finding much in the way of cash, and told the gunman to “shoot them”. Fortunately no shots were fired. They escaped with about $100. and stereo equipment worth $2,000.
In 1995, Sergei Zubov, who was profiled in a “bad boy” role above, was once the victim of lawlessness too. A member of the Rangers at the time, he, his wife, his mother, and infant son were strolling through the Russian neighbourhood in Brooklyn where they normally shopped. An 18-year-old male, who was horsing around with two teen girls, pushed one of them into Zubov. When the New York rearguard objected, the youth sprayed him in the face with mace. Some also hit his wife Irina.
Marty Turco was once reminiscing about some of his experiences on the road. He said the one which beat out all the rest took place in 1999. He and his girlfriend (by then his wife) were in Orlando. They were held up at gunpoint.
Roger Dangerfield’s famous spoof about the game is somewhat extreme: “The other night I went to a fight and a hockey game broke out!” But criminal elements mixed in with Canada’s National Sport has had more than its share of moments.
NEXT ISSUE: PART TWO—LAW AND THE LAWLESS—THE EARLY YEARS
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