Retired professional hockey player condemns mounting violence in NHL

Katie Tower
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Retired NHL player Robert “Bobby” Belliveau-Ferrin Lemieux speaks to members of the Sackville Rotary Club about violence in hockey during a recent meeting. TOWER PHOTO

SACKVILLE, NB – A one-time NHLer who now makes his home in the Port Elgin area says violence in hockey is way out of control and something needs to be done about it before it’s too late.

“Somebody is going to die from a headshot,” said Robert “Bobby” Belliveau-Ferrin Lemieux during a recent Sackville Rotary Club meeting, where he served as guest speaker. “Mark my words, somebody is going to get killed.”

Lemieux, a retired professional ice hockey defenceman who played 19 games for the Oakland Seals during the NHL’s 1967-’68 season, said he’s disappointed that the “rock’em, sock’em type of hockey” continues to be promoted throughout the ranks.

He pointed to CBC hockey commentator Don Cherry, for instance, as an example of someone who adamantly endorses the old-time, blood and guts hockey, saying the fans crave it.

“I disagree totally with the way Don thinks the game should be played.”

Lemieux began his hockey career with the Montreal Canadiens organization at age 13 and played his first professional game at age 17. He captained the Montreal Junior Canadiens under Hall of Fame coach Scotty Bowman.

Later on, while playing with the Muskegon Zephyrs, Lemiux was named a First Team All-Star and the top defenceman of the International Hockey League in 1965–66.

He also played three seasons with the Western Hockey League's Vancouver Canucks before setting down his stick in 1970.

Then he was immediately captured by the Detroit Red Wings organization and sent to their number one development team in Fort Worth Texas, where he served on the marketing and administration end of things.

With more than two decades of experience in the world of professional sports –having served as a player, coach, manager, and administrator in three different major league sports –Lemieux said he’s become disturbed by the way the game is being controlled by money and power.

“I’m disgusted by all of it.”

Hockey, the way it should be played, is “a beautiful sport,” said Lemieux, and he’d like to see it return to its former glory when players weren’t deliberately injuring each other.

He said he worries for the young children who are growing up in the ice rinks today, kids who have watched violence mount in the National Hockey League.

Nearly 90 players in the 2011-12 NHL season had head injuries or concussion-related symptoms, he said, and he questions how the game has gotten so out of control.

Having had seven concussions himself throughout his hockey career, Lemieux said he knows the price to be paid for the rise to the top.

“The drive to the NHL was stronger than anything,” he said.

“As parents and grandparents, do your children need this?”

Lemieux said he would like to see a national debate called on the violence aspect of hockey, and would love to argue his viewpoint with Don Cherry.

“What he’s advocating to your children is deadly,” he said. “There’s a better way to play the game, a much better way.”

Make the ice rinks bigger, he said, remove the red line, and bring the game back to where “a hit is just a hit and a body check is just a body check.”

“What’s wrong with blowing the whistle? What’s wrong with taking the goons out of the game? What’s wrong with putting finesse back into the game?”

Lemieux, now a wildlife photographer, grew up in Dorchester where he was raised by his grandparents Ruth and Marcel Belliveau. He moved back to New Brunswick several years ago, where he resides in Johnston’s Point with his wife Mariette. He has two children, seven grandchildren, and a great-grandson.


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Recent comments

  • Rejean Cormier
    September 18, 2012 - 01:40

    How can we take Bobby seriously? This guy is so out of touch with the game he doesn't even know they removed the red line following the 2004-2005 lockout. There's no way to compare the head injuries that are occurring today to years past. Years ago, guys played through the fog and haze of a concussion, if anything the game is far safer today than when Bobby had his cup of NHL coffee.