This wasn't just a momentary lapse in judgment. The violent elbow that ended the seasons of both Patrice Cormier and the victim Mikael Tam came -- like Cormier's rage -- seemingly out of nowhere.
That is what makes the Cormier situation -- and maybe others like it -- so troubling. The punishment, especially if Tam never plays again, can never fit the crime. Cormier will return to hockey next season, as a professional, after justly being suspended for the remainder of this year, including playoffs, by the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. The only ludicrous part of the suspension is leaving the door open for any kind of entrance to the Memorial Cup this year.
But the heinous on-ice act, hopefully the last of this season but not his first, does not seem to fit the profile of those who know Cormier best, leaving so many questions unanswered. And by itself, that is of tremendous concern.
Ask anyone who knows Cormier well and you will hear the same descriptions applied. Character. Leadership. Honesty. Work Ethic.
He is the kind of physical edgy hockey player that attracts National Hockey League interest. He didn't play out of control at last year's world junior tournament or at the Memorial Cup or in any discernible way before this season. There was nothing to suggest that Cormier was capable of this or any kind of deliberate act.
"This does not reflect the character of the Patrice Cormier I know. We know the family," said Lou Lamoriello, the New Jersey general manager who drafted Cormier, and doesn't often choose players from Quebec. "We spent considerable time with him, with them. We know his personality. But the situation did take place and we understand the ramifications and accept them.
"To me, he's still a quality human being. He's not a bad person. He made a wrong judgment."
No, he actually made several.
This gets people thinking. This gets people wondering. What -- one hockey person asked aloud yesterday -- changed Cormier from one season to the next? What made him so aggressive? What made him so reckless? What turned him from hockey player to bully?
How did this kid, with character enough to be named captain of Canada's junior team, with temperament and skill enough to impress the Devils into drafting him in the second round, with the kind of work ethic and personality to make it big one day, become that kid?
Another hockey person used the word rage, wondered what had changed Cormier in one short year. Questioned how he trained in the summer, what he trained with, what turned this young man from aggressive to out of control? The Quebec League tests for steroids: Cormier had a clean slate.
Yet quietly, around the world junior tournament, he was talked to more than once by the Team Canada brass. There was the incident against Sweden, a bad one. There was another, less publicized incident, in a pre-tournament game against Finland. The belief then, and some now, that this was not who Cormier is.
One mistake is out of character. One mistake can be accident, a miscalculation, an inability to control his frustrations. But how do you judge when it's two incidents, or three or four. When a "five-star person isn't acting normal" as a hockey voice offered yesterday.
"We will talk to him," Lamoriello said. "We will work with them, just like we would work with an injured player. We're concerned for the young man (Tam). We're also concerned for Patrice, the human being. We look at him in a valued way.
"I don't know what went through his mind but this is something he's going to regret. We support the decision (to suspend him). I never said he shouldn't be suspended. That was mis-interpreted. I was asked, do you think the law needs to be involved? I said, no it should not be. Somehow that got taken as I didn't think he should be suspended.
"Let me tell you, the Devils organization views this situation seriously and we fully respect the decision made."
The Devils and Cormier have work to do here, much to understand, trying to determine how good turned bad, making certain it never happens again.