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The dark cloud still lingers

A tall man with a rugged stubble and heavy bags under his eyes stands at a podium in a dark suit as cameras flash all around him and reporters wait. Holding his right hand to his mouth, his lip still quivers and his eyes stare at the floor instead of the cameras and reporters in front of him. He lifts his head and begins to talk but he only makes it about 30 seconds before he has to lower his head back into his hand.  He stays like that for what surely feels like an eternity before lifting his head back up and blinking his eyes repeatedly, trying to fight away tears. He continues talking, but only for a few more seconds before having to stop again; this time turning his back to those in attendance. He discretely wipes his nose and eyes with a handkerchief while his back is turned and then turns back to continue speaking. He speaks for another 30 seconds before walking off the stage with his wife and the team's general manager.

It had been two days since the incident that vilified him across the sports world. Two days since he swung his right fist from behind Steve Moore and sent him to the ice in an unconscious heap. In that short span of time, every synonym for "villain" was spewed in his direction following the attack on Steve Moore.

Monster.  Criminal. Brute. Savage. Thug. Goon. These were all epithets that popped up on news outlets and message boards as the outrage from the incident began to spread across the sports world and eventually spilling over into everyday news.

Immediately the speculation began as to whether he was sincere in his apology or if he was "faking it" to try and salvage his public image. Analyst after analyst offered up opinion on the matter, putting forth a minor detail to swing it one way or the other. Even if he was sincere, would the public accept the apology and move on?

More than five years later, the answer is apparently still a resounding "no".  Ask any NHL fan-that would remember the incident-what the first thought is in their mind when they hear the name "Todd Bertuzzi". I would be willing to bet that 9 times out of 10, the answer would be one of those aforementioned synonyms for "villain."

Given the very distinct intent to injure, it was no wonder that Todd Bertuzzi was labeled in such a manner. Sure, it was probably a situation in which his emotions got the better of him and it ended up costing him, and more importantly Steve Moore, dearly. Cast aside for the vicious attack on Moore, few teams would touch Bertuzzi. Post lock-out, Bertuzzi had not spent consecutive years in one city until his newest deal to stay in Detroit.

But there's also another side to this story as well. A side opposite of the dark past of the incident and the legal ramifications that have ensued. There's a story of a man trying to re-establish himself in a light separate from that the he brought upon himself. The Todd Bertuzzi that wore the Winged Wheel last year was not the Todd Bertuzzi of old. He did not drop the gloves a single time, he didn't go around the ice gooning it up, and he gave more effort than is expected of him each night.

Last year's version of Todd Bertuzzi was a man apart from his former self. Sure, he still provided somewhat of a physical presence just by being on the ice but he repeatedly walked away from fights because of trying to keep that distance from the past. He began to play solid and responsibly in the defensive zone--yes, Todd Bertuzzi began to backcheck. He began to defer scoring chances to his teammates with better opportunities and play as a better team player. And you could see that on the faces of his teammates, the players on the ice grinned when he would make an excellent pass or provide a great shootout goal. Surely, they see a guy that had worked so hard to distance himself from his past and become a better team player.

Asking people to not think of the Steve Moore incident when they hear Todd Bertuzzi's name is like asking people not to think of the color red when you say "red". It's just going to happen. However, I do think that there is a certain degree to which people are willing to accept that he has moved past that stage of his career and is attempting to prove that he has changed. I'm not asking people to forgive what he did to Steve Moore, because they shouldn't. What he did that night was absolutely unacceptable. But what I am asking is that people think of him as more than the guy that sucker-punched Moore. Everyone deserves a second shot, right?