Atlanta Thrasher prospect Patrice Cormier has had some highs and lows in his quest to become a NHL player.
His passion, talent and desire with Rouyn-Noranda made him a natural to lead Canada as the captain of the world junior team.
He was a high second-round draft choice of the New Jersey Devils and was dealt to the Atlanta Thrashers as part of the Kovalchuk deal that also brought the Thrashers Bergfors and Oduya.
Hockey watchers viewed the Atlanta trade as an opportunity for Cormier to gain playing time in his rookie season, a boon for his future as a regular.
New GM Rick Dudley even commented positively on the prospect of Cormier making the big leagues next season in an Atlanta uniform.
Then the bottom fell out. It was bad enough that he had to sit out an entire season in juniors as punishment, but then the hit that gained so much attention began to become an albatross around Patrice Cormier’s neck, constantly reappearing and getting heavier and heavier by the minute.
A s reported in the Canadian Press , Rouyn-Noranda authorities have charged Cormier with assault causing injury. If convicted, he could face up to 18 months behind bars.
The hit caused Mikael Tam to convulse on the ice, and he reportedly ceased breathing for a period.
To say the least, Cormier used poor judgment, but the question remains should outside politics be injected into what was once a five-minute major penalty.
When viewing the tape of the hit, it is difficult to characterize it as viciously as other scribes who have previously reported on it.
But the reality is that politicians can make a name for themselves prosecuting hockey players.
In the NHL prior to all the new rules designed to create a softer more mainstream image, such a hit was not out of the norm.
In junior hockey, violent actions were quite common and a part of the rites of passage for players looking to move into the professional ranks.
Ted Lindsay often described how tough training camp was in the six team NHL.
”Everyone had to play for their spot and a veteran wasn’t going to let a rookie gain an inch," he said.
Sometimes rookie players were caught with their heads down and the results were lacerations and contusions.
This was in training camp. Things have changed in the new NHL.
In the 1970’s and 1980’s the Big Bad Bruins and the Broad Street Bully Philadelphia Flyers filled arenas to capacity with fan expectations of rough play. Hits like the one Cormier delivered to Tam were commonplace.
The worry for Cormier is twofold. First it is a surety that he does not want to be convicted of assault, and secondly he does not want the effect of all of the media attention and negativity to affect his play on the ice permanently .
When Dan Maloney was assailed for his on-ice assault of Phil Roberto, it changed Maloney’s aggressive behavior on ice. Although effective, he was never the same player.
Detroit Red Wing Todd Bertuzzi was never the same player after going through all of the problems that surfaced after his hit from behind of Colorado Avalanche forward Steve Moore.
Other tough guys like Dave Schultz, Dennis Polonich, Bugsy Watson, Bob Kelly, and Steve Durbano to mention just a few earned their livings delivering hits in open ice.
To show how sensitive teams are to certain aggressive players, the Philadelphia Flyers made Dan Carcillo a healthy scratch in several Stanley Cup finals matches.
Carcillo has been a sparkplug all season long and contributed to the Flyers amazing Stanley Cup run.
If the Thrashers are to gain ground in the 2011 season, Patrice Cormier will need all of his talent, aggressiveness and yes, attitude to make a run for the playoffs.
Let's hope he still has some of those ingredients left after his ordeal with Canadian politicians.
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