Jesse Boulerice, you’d think, is one mistake from incurring an NHL version of the Three Strike Rule, and there are more than a few people who can and do make a compelling argument he should be out of the game already.
But Boulerice, a 30-year-old tough guy with two significant incidents of mayhem on his record as a player, isn’t out of the game after being picked up on waivers by the Edmonton Oilers this week.
In fact, there’s a distinct possibility Boulerice will be in Oilers silks when the Colorado Avalanche come calling at Rexall Place Saturday as he attempts to re-establish himself as an NHL player.
Given the book on Boulerice, there’s debate whether he deserves this chance at all, and how much slack he’ll get from NHL officials now that he’s back looking for work as an enforcer with the Oilers.
You know Boulerice’s story:
- As a member of the Philadelphia Flyers, Boulerice was suspended for 25 games by the NHL in October of 2007 for crosschecking Ryan Kesler of the Vancouver Canucks in the face. After a brief reinstatement with the Flyers, Boulerice has been bouncing around the minors. He was toiling with the Lake Erie Monsters of the AHL as Colorado property when the Oilers claimed him.
- In April of 1998 while playing for Plymouth of the OHL, Boulerice struck Andrew Long of the Guelph Storm in the face with his stick. It was an ugly incident that led to Boulerice being suspended by the OHL for one year in addition to him eventually pleading guilt to aggravated assault.
A pretty honest tough guy during 170 NHL games through 11 years as a pro, Boulerice knows he’ll be forever stained by the incidents—the same way Marty McSorley soiled his reputation after so many seasons as a good-old-fashioned enforcer by two-handing Donald Brashear across the head in a fit of anger.
“I always try to play an honest game, make smart plays and not do anything cheap,” Boulerice said. “No hits from behind or stuff like that.
“All of a sudden, in the heat of battle, it happened. It wasn’t like I thought in my head I’m going to go crosscheck this guy (Kesler) in the face. I went over to give him a shot. It just kind of happened that way. It wasn’t intentional.”
While I didn’t speak with Boulerice about specifics of the Long incident, and the Oilers understandably would rather it not be discussed, it’s worth noting it was very much worse than the more publicized Kesler incident.
Here’s the Vancouver Province‘s account of Boulerice’s attack on Long, written Oct. 12, 2007.
“Long was knocked unconscious. He suffered a seizure. He suffered a grade-three concussion, a brain contusion, multiple facial fractures and two black eyes. He needed 20 stitches, had a crushed nasal cavity and was left with a blood spot on his brain.”
Here’s some comments from Long, who is out of hockey and a real estate agent in the Vancouver area, after the Kesler incident, but before the 25-game suspension was handed down.
“Out loud, I said, ‘Oh my god, are you kidding me?'” says Long. “I don’t even know if I felt anger. It was kind of disbelief, the act was so similar. But I wasn’t surprised. It was one of those things where you’re just left shaking your head, thinking, ‘Now what?
“I know the suspension is not going to fit the crime. I just know it. He shouldn’t be allowed to play ever again. He was given another opportunity and look what he did.
“He should be suspended for life. I wanted him suspended for life, that was my only real concern. People said: ‘Don’t you want him to go to jail? Don’t you want to sue?’ I said, ‘No.’
“It is a hockey incident, but it’s the worst kind of hockey incident. So what do you do? You give the worst penalty. And what’s the worst penalty? A life suspension.”
And about his run-in with Boulerice:
“I almost died,” says Long. “It was within a couple of inches either way of happening. If I would have seen him, my natural reaction would have been to tip my head back and if I did that and he hit me in the neck, I would have been dead on impact. If it was two inches higher and I died, what would he have got then?”
Here we are
So, with Steve MacIntyre out of the line-up for at least two months with a fractured orbital bone around his left eye, the Oilers felt acquiring Boulerice would fill a need.
Oiler Erik Cole, who played with Boulerice in Carolina and has known him since they were kids growing up in New York, has had nothing but glowing things to say about his old friend.
“I definitely questioned whether I’d get another chance to play,” Boulerice said after his first skate with the Oilers Thursday. “I’m grateful for it and I’m definitely looking at it that way. It’s an opportunity I can’t pass up and I’m going to make the best of.”
There, you have it. Likely starting Saturday, Boulerice will try to make good on another chance—one many people don’t think he should get.
—Listen to Robin Brownlee every Thursday from 4 to 6pm on Just A Game with Jason Gregor on Team 1260.