Former Rouyn-Noranda Huskies forward Patrice Cormier has pled not guilty to a charge of assault causing bodily harm for the elbow he delivered to Mikael Tam. The elbow sent Tam into convulsions on the ice. The Quebec Major Junior Hockey League suspended Cormier for the hit.
If convicted, Cormier faces a maximum of 18 months in jail.
Cormier is an Atlanta Thrasher after Lou Lamoriello shipped him out of New Jersey in the Illy Kovalchuk deal.
Here's the Cormier hit on Tam - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QgwCaxEB6-Y&feature=related
The not guilty plea is a bit of a surprise. Generally, what we have seen in these types of cases is players pleading guilty and getting a conditional discharge - which means no criminal record and no jail time so long as they abide by the terms of the discharge. Of course, Cormier may have just decided to fight this charge as he may not believe he's guilty. There is also the possibility that the conditional discharge offer was not on the table for Cormier to take, although that seems less likely given the way past incidents have unfolded.
Todd Bertuzzi pled guilty for his hit on Steve Moore. So did Alexander Perezhogin for his vicious two-hander to Garrett Stafford's head. Backup goalie turned backup singer Jonathan Roy also pled guilty for beating up an unwilling Bobby Nadeau. They all walked with conditional discharges (read From Cross-Checking To A Crime: When Is Violence In Hockey Criminal for more details on these incidents).
Looking at criminal assault and how it ties into hockey is helpful.
In order to establish the crime of assault causing bodily harm, you need to show the person intentionally applied harm, the victim didn’t consent to that harm and harm was caused.
In hockey, when you step on the ice, you consent to some form of bodily contact and harm, and the risk of injury that flows from that. This is because hockey is understood to be a violent game. However, players only consent to harm that is incidental to the game and not to acts that are intended to harm them. So Marian Hossa’s devastating high stick on Bryan Berard or Andy Sutton sending Jordan Leopold airborne are ok; Bertuzzi on Moore may not be ok though.
So in some cases when a player jumps on the ice and intentionally injures another player, it could be said that the harmed player did not consent to the harm. It follows then that a crime may have been committed on the ice.
In the case of the Cormier hit on Tam, some believed that Cormier intentionally hurt Tam (he was headhunting). The hit on Tam was considered so bad that, in the view of some, Tam could not be seen as having consented to it. What followed then was the charge of assault.
It will be interesting to see how this case unfolds. If this goes to trial, expect this case to get a lot of attention, particularly in the hockey crazy country of Canada.