Thuggery is so commonplace in ice hockey that there are detailed rules covering the degree of hurt caused to an opponent. Charging, for instance, is a minor penalty unless 'blood is drawn', when it automatically becomes a major penalty. Cross checking, the not-so-gentle art of driving the shaft of a stick into an opponent, is a minor penalty if the aggressor has both hands on the stick at the time. Slashing, an attempt to impede a player by swinging a stick at him, is also a minor penalty. Unless, of course, injury is caused when it becomes a major penalty and a game misconduct. Running through the lurid lexicon of laws which purport to control this war on ice - war which fans in North America positively lap up - there does not appear to be an entry under 'beheading'. Perhaps, after Marty McSorley's wild stick-swinging attack on the head of Vancouver's Donald Brashear, one will be added. McSorley caught Brashear square on the temple but if he had connected several inches lower it would have been the closest thing to a beheading witnessed in modern sport. Ice hockey authorities have been quick to limit the damage to the sport's image. McSorley has been suspended until the end of the season and NHL commissioner Gary Bettman hurriedly pointed out that 'blows to the head, stick infractions' had been down this year due to a clean-up campaign. He did not come up with detailed figures, though, and the very fact that blows to the head and stick infractions are the norm rather than unusual underlines what many have believed for decades - that violence is ice hockey's main selling point. How else can you explain terms like spearing, slashing, charging, checking, kneeing and roughing which appear in an official glossary of the sport? 'Mad' Marty McSorley is termed as an 'enforcer' for the Boston Bruins. An 'enforcer', in ice hockey parlance, is 'also called the policeman; usually the most penalised player on a team; he has the job of protecting his teammates from harm; generally a larger player who is not afraid of any fight'. That sums up McSorley, who had racked up 62 penalty minutes in just 27 games this season before the match against Vancouver and has been banished for a career total of 3,381 minutes. Only Dale Hunter, himself suspended for 21 games after a blindside check in 1993, and Dave 'Tiger' Williams are ahead of him on the NHL's bad boy list. McSorley and Brashear - no angel himself - had a bust-up in the first period of last week's game, with the latter coming out on top. That, seemingly, prompted McSorley to 'goad Brashear' into a further fight. 'I have done that with so many guys, so many times, but I don't know what happened [this time],' said McSorley. What happened was that he lost his head and almost lopped off someone else's. And who's to blame him? He has been lionised as 'rough and tough' in a violent sport and reacted violently when someone proved rougher and tougher. There is talk of McSorley being charged with assault but, if justice is to be done, ice hockey's administrators - the sport's apologists in chief - should be in the dock alongside him.