Pacioretty opposes criminal investigation into Chara hit
Boston Bruins' Zdeno Chara skates off the ice after hitting Montreal Canadiens' Max Pacioretty during second period NHL hockey action Tuesday, March 8, 2011 in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Published Thursday, March 10, 2011 9:03PM EST
MONTREAL - Canadiens' forward Max Pacioretty was released from the Montreal General Hospital late Thursday afternoon and sent home to start his healing, which he hopes does not involve having to think about criminal litigation.
Late Thursday the injured forward tweeted a message that read:
"I sincerely appreciate all of the support that I have received since my injury. I was disappointed that the NHL did not suspend Zdeno Chara. However, I have no desire for him to be prosecuted legally. I feel that the incident, as ugly as it was, was part of a hockey game."
"I understand that this is not my decision. I have respect and admiration for the authorities in Quebec. I simply wanted to make my opinion clear."
Pacioretty was referring to a report that Montreal police was launching a criminal investigation into Tuesday night's bodycheck by Zdeno Chara that left him the young Canadien with a broken neck and a severe concussion.
Montreal Canadiens' owner Geoff Molson called on his 29 fellow owners to join him in a group to analyze safety in the NHL.
"I am willing to play a leadership role in coordinating this group effort," wrote Molson.
Montreal police confirmed on Thursday that they have opened a criminal investigation at the behest of Quebec's director of criminal and penal prosecutions, Louis Dionne.
"The police investigation will be held. Like all police investigations, evidence will be gathered and an investigation report will be submitted (to the DCPP)," Dionne's spokesperson Martine Berube said Thursday.
"(The DCPP) will then evaluate to see whether there's grounds for prosecution."
When asked what kind of punishment might result from the case, Berube said it was too soon to say.
"That would depend on what charges are laid. That's a little difficult to predict at this point."
Pacioretty is recovering from a severe concussion and a non-displaced fractured vertebra he suffered in a hit by Boston bruins captain Zdeno Chara on Tuesday evening.
In recent years, Quebec police have charged at least three hockey players from the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League with assault.
On Wednesday, Montreal police asked Canadiens fans to stop calling them to file complaints against Chara.
Police said they were inundated with calls from people seeking to file a criminal complaint against the six-foot-nine defenceman.
The calls demanding criminal charges began Wednesday afternoon, shortly after the NHL announced it would neither suspend nor fine Chara.
Police say their emergency call centre started getting flooded around 4 p.m. – after the NHL announced its decision.
A spokesman says police suspect the calls were inspired by a local media outlet that suggested the idea.
The police spokesman described the gesture as irresponsible – and he urged Montrealers to keep the emergency line free for actual life-and-death matters.
He would not speculate, however, when asked whether police might actually investigate the Chara incident.
The incident not only tied up police lines but also landed in the political arena: in the House of Commons, the federal minister responsible for sport called on the NHL to act.
Hockey players charged in Quebec include Jonathan Roy who played for the Quebec Remparts. Roy was given an unconditional discharge by the judge in October 2009.
Patrice Cormier, now a member of the Atlanta Thrashers, also plead guilty for an assault following a vicious elbow to an opponent's head in January 2010. A third Quebec junior player was also charged in another incident but cannot be named upon orders of the court.
Charges unlikely: experts
Legal and law-enforcement experts expressed doubt the police investigation would result in criminal charges.
"This would be the type of case that would be very tough to prosecute,'' said John Galianos, a former major crimes investigator with Quebec's provincial police.
He added that the difficulty facing prosecutors would be establishing Chara's intent to injure.
"I don't think a Crown attorney would prosecute based on the video,'' Galianos said.
The prosecution would also have to argue that the violence of the hit went above and beyond the normal level of violence in professional hockey, said a Montreal criminal lawyer.
"When you get involved in a sport, there is a concept of acceptance of risk,'' said Steven Slimovitch.
"The question is did Pacioretty agree to be hit in that kind of fashion by Zdeno Chara? Was the hit so outside the norm of what is found in the sport of hockey . . . that it's not hockey anymore.
Slimovitch pointed out that while criminal charges have been brought against NHL players in the past for on-ice violence, they have generally involved stick-swinging incidents.
There is little precedent for a bodycheck leading to legal action.
Following the Bruins' pre-game skate in Boston on Thursday, Chara reiterated his claim that he didn't set out to hurt Pacioretty.
"You feel bad when a fellow player gets severely hurt,'' he said. "I know, deep down, I did not do it intentionally.''
With files from The Canadian Press