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Pain lingers for Polonich 26 years after attack

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Pain lingers for Polonich 26 years after vicious attack

Headaches, lack of apology still hurt



Saturday, March 19, 2005 Page S2

VANCOUVER -- Dennis Polonich has something in common with Steve Moore besides being a National Hockey League player involved in a controversial lawsuit.

It's the lingering effects from head injuries.

Polonich has only hazy memories of the incident that changed his life forever when he was clubbed in the face by the hockey stick swung by an angry opponent in an NHL game in October, 1978.

The stocky winger was knocked unconscious and, arguably, was never the same player, which is why Polonich, now a Calgary-based player agent, follows closely the legal ramifications of the Moore suit against Todd Bertuzzi, filed in a Denver court.

"I still get headaches, but you can't tell whether it's from the incident or previous concussions," Polonich said matter-of-factly in a recent interview. "I can still play hockey with the alumni, which is a blessing."

Polonich was awarded $850,000 (all figures U.S) in damages in 1982 by a Detroit jury after suing the Colorado Rockies for the retaliatory, baseball-like swing by Colorado player Wilf Paiement that injured Polonich.

Polonich was in his third full season with the Detroit Red Wings. The 24-year-old from Foam Lake, Sask., had earlier been team captain. He played with an aggressive style, often fighting with opposing players, just the way he had done in junior hockey at Flin Flon, Man.

Ted Lindsay, the general manager of the Wings at the time, recalled the incident this way: "Paiement planted his feet, and with both hands at the bottom of his stick, took a full baseball batter's swing, striking Dennis in the face. If it had been a little higher, he could have been killed."

Lindsay testified on behalf of Polonich at the civil trial, along with several fans from different vantage points in Detroit's old Olympia Stadium.

"Back in those days, there were only four camera angles and they followed the puck and didn't catch the incident," Polonich recalled. "We had to rely on eyewitnesses when there wasn't any video available."

To this day, Polonich has not received an apology from Paiement, who was suspended for 15 games by the league.

"Regardless of whether you are provoked or not, it doesn't give you the authority to club somebody across the face," Polonich said.

"I still have a breathing impairment because my nose was crushed like an eggshell. My septum is deviated now. It's not straight. There's facial disfigurement."

Polonich returned to play in the NHL, just as Henry Boucha of the Minnesota North Stars had after he was badly injured when struck in the eye with the butt end of a high stick by Dave Forbes of the Boston Bruins in 1975.

Boucha received an out-of-court settlement of $3.5-million after legal action was launched. Boucha and Polonich were both represented by Detroit lawyer James Feeney.

"No one [from the Moore family] has contacted me," Feeney said. "I half expected somebody would, if for no other reason than to talk about these cases. I really don't understand what is happening with Moore."

Lawyers for Moore filed civil action in Colorado, claiming the Bertuzzi incident, which occurred on March 8, 2004, in Vancouver with a blind-side punch to the head, causing serious injury, actually began with a game in Denver on Feb. 16 between Moore and the Colorado Avalanche and Bertuzzi and the Vancouver Canucks.

Named as defendants are Bertuzzi, teammate Brad May, Vancouver coach Marc Crawford, former Canucks general manager Brian Burke and the Vancouver hockey club, owned by Orca Bay Sports & Entertainment.

"The theory of the [Polonich] case was we sued the employer, not the individual, because [Paiement] was acting in the course and scope of his employment," Feeney said, adding the Rockies rejected mediation and the case went to trial.

Bertuzzi has been suspended since March 10 of last year. In B.C. Provincial Court, Bertuzzi pleaded guilty to assault causing bodily harm and was given a suspended sentence in December.

Dennis Polonich

Career: The onetime Detroit captain played parts of eight National Hockey League seasons before finishing his career in the minor leagues. Polonich dressed for 390 NHL games and had 59 goals, 82 assists, 141 points and 1,242 minutes in penalties.

Background: The 5-foot-6 player was born in Foam Lake, Sask., and played junior for the Flin Flon Bombers. He was Detroit's eighth-round selection in the 1973 amateur draft.

Quote: "If they had to go through the pain I went through -- the marking, disfigurement and psychological problems -- they'd say it wasn't worth $850,000 (U.S.)." -- Polonich, on whether he thought the award he won in his lawsuit was sufficient.

Edited by Rock

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