Female hockey player convicted

JANE SIMS -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 10:06 AM ET

A former Niagara Falls women's hockey player joined company with NHL bad guys Todd Bertuzzi and Marty McSorley when she was charged after a vicious on-ice assault in London.

But unlike the disgraced big-league athletes given conditional discharges for hockey violence, Julia Tropea was dealt a criminal record yesterday for kicking London Devilette Carly Bernard in the head with her skate two years ago.

With his decision, Ontario Court Justice Ted McGrath sent a message to the hockey community that excessive violence on the ice can lead to a criminal record off it.

In a case without legal precedent, and unknown to women's hockey, Tropea was given a suspended sentence and two years probation after she was convicted of assault.

McGrath said it was to "deter her and like-minded people" who act violently in the heat of the moment on ice.

The decision was a relief for Bernard, 20, who was in court with her parents and has been putting her life back together since she suffered a head injury during the game.

"I think everyone is realizing that violence in hockey has to stop and this is where it has to stop," she said.

"People are going to start dying and it shouldn't have to go to that."

Tropea's lawyer, Andy Rady, argued for a conditional discharge -- the same result given Bertuzzi and McSorley in their high-profile cases for assault causing bodily harm and assault with a weapon.

Rady said Tropea should be given the same consideration as professional hockey players who "have the ability to get discharges for conduct more egregious."

McGrath called Tropea's act of violence "so egregious to me, it wipes out any chance of a discharge."

He added he "would have considered custody, perhaps house arrest for a few months," had assistant Crown attorney Peter Rollings sought jail time.

Rady said he will appeal the sentence and length of probation.

A criminal record could jeopardize Tropea's studies and ambition to work in early childhood education, he said. She also lives in a border town and a record would halt her from crossing into the U.S.

"She is very upset," he said.

Unlike the professional hockey cases, Tropea pleaded not guilty to assault causing bodily harm, but guilty to common assault in November.

The former member of the Niagara Falls Rapids was charged after a tournament game at Western Fair in London on Feb 12, 2005.

The incident began after Bernard fell on a Niagara player, then prevented her from getting up.

Bernard was to be assessed an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. But before play stopped, Tropea came across the ice and cross-checked her.

Then, while Bernard was sprawled on the ice, Tropea kicked her on the top of the helmet.

Bernard was taken to hospital by her father, then released. Later, it was discovered she had a jaw dislocation and a possible concussion.

Both Rollings and Rady agreed there was no conclusive way to know if Bernard's injuries were caused by the cross-check or the "high-impact kick," as described in the referee's report.

Tropea was penalized on the ice for the cross-check. Her guilty plea was for the kick, Rady said, and she doesn't acknowledge the bodily harm.

McGrath called it "the most uncommon of common assaults."

Tropea, who had no record, lives at home with her mother and two siblings. She works in a day care as part of her school placement and holds down two part-time jobs. She hasn't played hockey since.

It was "unbelievable someone of such antecedents would perpetrate such an offence," said McGrath.

Instead of relying on the McSorley and Bertuzzi decisions, McGrath said he was swayed more by the arguments of Rollings who said "a discharge clearly hasn't worked" to deter hockey violence.

The judge pointed to the case involving former London Knight Dino Ciccarelli, who, as a member of the NHL's Minnesota North Stars, received one day in jail and a fine in 1989 for assault for hitting Toronto Maple Leaf Luke Richardson on the head with his stick.

An appeal court upheld the decision and said a proposed discharge "was contrary to the public interest."

"I've come to the same conclusion," McGrath said.

For the record, McGrath said he disagreed with the Bertuzzi decision -- which was a joint submission from the Crown and the defence.

"Mr. Bertuzzi should have been given real jail and real time," McGrath said of the player's attack on Steve Moore of the Colorado Avalanche.


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