NHL player Marty McSorley has been found guilty of assault with a weapon after slashing a Vancouver Canuck forward with his hockey stick during a game last February.

British Columbia Provincial Court Judge William Kitchen imposed an 18-month conditional discharge which means he won't have a criminal record as long as he behaves himself during that time.

The judge ruled McSorely can play against any team except one that included the person he knocked out during February's game Donald Brashear.

McSorley could have faced up to 18 months in jail. But Kitchen said being forced to live with the stigma of the trial was punishment enough.

Friday's decision doesn't mean McSorely will resume his career as one of the league's "enforcers" right away. After last winter's slash, McSorley was suspended for the rest of the season 23 games and lost about $100,000 in pay.

The suspension is now indefinite, and McSorely must appear before an NHL hearing to apply for reinstatement.

Thousands of people watched McSorley, then a Boston Bruin defenceman, hit Brashear over the head, knocking him to the ice where he lay for several minutes with a severe concussion.

During the trial, the defence argued that violence was a part of the game. His lawyer also argued that McSorley didn't intend to hit Brashear on the head, aiming at his shoulder instead.

The judge disagreed, concluding that McSorley had an impulse to smash Brashear in the head. "Brashear was struck as intended," he said.

Kitchen made it clear he was judging McSorley's case on its own merits, refuting those who said the game itself was on trial.

"If this is the trial of Canadian hockey, the judge and jury is the Canadian public," he said.

During the sentencing McSorley hung his head. He told court he plans to speak personally with Brashear.

"I have a tremendous amount of respect for the game," McSorley said, "I'm extremely glad to see Donald back on the ice and I do plan to address this with Donald in person."

Brashear testified he still has no memory of the incident. He recovered fully and is back playing with the Canucks.

Outside the court, McSorley's lawyer said the player was upset by the verdict and was seriously considering an appeal. The trial attracted national and international attention with media from around the world attending the proceedings.

It's the first conviction of an NHL player for an on-ice hit in more than a decade. In 1988, Dino Ciccarelli got a day in jail and a $1,000 fine after a vicious stick-swinging incident.