Daily Herald
Trial focuses on where to draw line in sports
By Erin Holmes | Daily Herald Staff
Published: 9/19/2007 12:16 AM

In the midst of an intensely heated third period, authorities say, David Micek turned a Hoffman Estates floor hockey game into a jury question.

Raising his stick above his head, Micek delivered an after-the-whistle blow to an opponent in a Sunday morning men's league game at the Grand Sports Arena, prosecutors say, fracturing the man's wrist, shattering the bones and causing permanent damage.

Micek, 39, of Schaumburg, was hit with two felony counts of aggravated battery.

But was it a brutal assault, or just part of the game?

Lawyers argued both sides Tuesday, opening a case that examines the line between breaking a sport's rules and actually breaking the law. Coincidentally, the issue is also playing out before the state Supreme Court this week.

In the Hoffman Estates case, prosecutors say Micek, a regular at the arena, drew a "slashing" penalty in the final period of a March 5, 2006, game, when he swung at Rick Alaimo's leg with his stick.

After the referee blew the whistle to send Micek to the penalty box, Micek hit Alaimo again -- this time, "with all the fury, frustration and anger that was building in him throughout the game," Assistant State's Attorney Matt Fakhoury said.

Micek threw in a "couple extra" punches later, Fakhoury said, noting all such hits were well outside the realm of floor hockey.

"The defendant decided that this would no longer be a game," Fakhoury continued. "And at this point, he decided it was going to be a crime."

Defense attorneys, though, argued that floor hockey -- a game that, like its counterpart on ice, frequently doles out penalties for rough hits -- is an intensely physical sport that lends itself to pushing, shoving, checking and fighting.

"The fans expect to see it, sometimes," lawyer Anthony Sassan said of such roughhousing, "and the players expect to be involved in it."

The hit Micek was charged with, he added, was nothing more than a continuation of an already passionate game -- not a crime.

"You don't go to a Blackhawks game or Wolves games and see the police waiting in the penalty box," he said.

The question of where the game stops and crime begins has haunted sports, and hockey specifically, before.

In 2004, Todd Bertuzzi, a forward for the Vancouver Canucks NHL team, pleaded guilty to an assault charge stemming from a hard hit of a Colorado Avalanche player during a game. In 2000, a Boston Bruins player was convicted of a similar crime.

Closer to home, a Glenbrook North High School hockey player pleaded no contest in 2000 to criminal charges he left the captain of a rival team paralyzed when he slammed him into the boards a split second after a game-ending buzzer. The teen had faced two felony counts of aggravated battery, as Micek does now.

In the 2006 Hoffman Estates case, witnesses testified Tuesday that the referee's whistle had already sounded when Micek again slammed his stick into his opponent.

The referee was among those who took the stand, acknowledging during questioning that rough contact is a normal part of the game but insisting Micek's blow was unlike any he'd seen in 10 years of officiating hockey.

The hit triggered a melee, the referee testified, with players from both teams coming after each other.

The game ended there.

The trial opens as the Illinois Supreme Court prepares to hear arguments Thursday regarding whether an injured high school hockey player can sue two Naperville players alleged to have illegally checked him into the boards from behind in a 2004 game.

Also named in that lawsuit are Naperville Central's Redhawk Hockey Association, the Amateur Hockey Association of Illinois and Illinois Hockey Officials Association.

A DuPage County judge dismissed the case, but an appellate court disagreed last year, saying the circumstances, as described in the lawsuit, merited a trial.

Among the key issues is whether the player's prohibited check was so beyond the level of typical hockey contact that it merits legal action and liability -- on the part of not only the players but also the coaches and the league.

Floor hockey is similar to ice hockey but is played on a hard surface, not ice. The athletes wear shoes, gloves, shin guards and, sometimes, helmets and elbow guards.

Micek's trial continues today in Rolling Meadows.