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He can tell you every detail of what happened that night. He remembers the feel of the crowd and the adrenalin that surged through his body. He can remember seeing one of his teammates knocked flat by a nasty shot. He remembers watching a fight break out between the two teams and feeling it was up to him to extract some revenge.

He remembers seeing the guilty player standing on the fringe of the skirmish and, yes, he remembers throwing the sucker punch that snapped Paul Gardner's jaw in two places. After that, everything was a blur for Jimmy Mann, a mosh pit of anger and chaos, pushing and yelling.

The next thing Mann says he remembers is sitting in the Winnipeg Jets' dressing room, his body shaking, his mind consumed by a single thought, "What the hell did I just do?

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"Gardner had cross-checked [the Jets']Doug Smail right in the face. [Smail]was just coming off a broken jaw. I saw Gardner and it looked to me like he was laughing. I said, 'You son of a [expletive] and I suckered him.

"I was 22. I was young. I didn't want to hurt the guy, but you don't realize what it's like in those situations."

Twenty-two years have passed since Mann broke the jaw of an unsuspecting Pittsburgh Penguin, yet that incident bears an eerie resemblance to everything we've seen and heard over the past week. What happened before, during and after the Todd Bertuzzi attack on Steve Moore was there in Mann versus Gardner, Jan. 13, 1982 -- right down to a police investigation that eventually put Mann in a Manitoba courtroom on assault charges.

For leaving the Winnipeg bench and doing what he did, Mann received a suspended sentence from the courts, a $500 fine and a 10-game suspension from the National Hockey League.

Today, he organizes hockey legends old-timers games and raises money for charities. Much of that money goes to children. It is used to buy new wheelchairs or pay for medical treatments.

"I paid the price for what I did," Mann said from his home in Quebec. "It wasn't my way of doing it. I wasn't that kind of player.

"I was a tough guy who dropped the gloves. I fought because that was my role. But what happened that game . . . I don't know. It had a black mark over me for the rest of my career."

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Mann was a first-round draft pick by the Jets. He scored 35 goals his final year with Sherbrooke in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, but in Winnipeg he was what today's NHL coaches call an "energy player," a fourth-liner who chases after and bodychecks everyone he can.

In December of 1979, a month before he punched Gardner, Mann had drawn a three-game suspension and a $500 fine from the NHL for pushing a linesman. He knew he had to be careful, but in the heat of a game that saw Smail hit in the face, something clouded Mann's judgment, made him lose touch with his sensibilities and made him want to lash out for revenge, and in that haze of anger, down went Gardner.

"I'm not saying it was the right thing to do," Mann said. "I'm not saying what Bertuzzi did was the right thing to do. I'm saying that in a situation like that, where you're caught up in the moment, you don't think straight. I knew what happened [in that game against Pittsburgh] Smail got cleaned good. I reacted. You wish you didn't."

Winnipeg general manager John Ferguson didn't condone Mann's actions, but he supported his player, the way Vancouver Canucks GM Brian Burke has supported Bertuzzi.

The Jets talked of Mann's character and his work in the community as the Canucks have talked of Bertuzzi's unsung efforts.

The Jets wanted the Mann incident to stay out of the courts, just as the Canucks want the police to stay clear of Bertuzzi. In the end, however, the black mark over Mann's name was written in indelible ink.

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Within two seasons, he was out of Winnipeg, his NHL career on a downward slide. He tried to be the same player he was before the Gardner attack, but things were never as good as they'd once been.

"I had a couple more fights and knocked guys out, but people always said, 'You sucker-punched him,' " Mann said. "It stays over you."

And it will stay over Bertuzzi, despite his higher status as a goal scorer and NHL star. The moment Mann saw the replay of Bertuzzi's mugging of Moore, his first words were, "Oh man, here we go again."

Twenty-two years later, Mann still wonders what he did, but at least he knows this much: that night, his punch wasn't worth it. It never is.

Lowlight of the night

Two nights after Todd Bertuzzi sucker-punched Steve Moore, Tampa Bay Lightning forward Tim Taylor was slashed from behind on the arm by Craig Adams of the Carolina Hurricanes as he scored an empty-net goal. Adams's two-handed whack narrowly missed the head of Taylor, who received a post-game phone call from his father to make sure he was okay. "You have to be so much more cautious right now with everything you do on the ice," Taylor said.

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amaki@globeandmail.ca

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