USA Hockey to consider proposal for anti-fight rules in Junior A leagues

Earlier this fall, the Canada's Junior A member leagues endorsed a measure that would see the rules governing fights changed so an offender would face an automatic ejection. A report in the New York Times Wednesday night suggests that USA Hockey is considering a proposed amendment to Rule 614 of its rulebook, which currently states that "A major penalty shall be assessed to any player who engages in fighting."

The proposed change enacts 25 amendments to the current rule, most notably enforcing the current international and NCAA standard for fights, where any fighting major is also accompanied by a game ejection.

The new rule would punish all fighters with automatic ejection from the game, and instigators with an automatic two-game suspension. It would also give referees more latitude in making decisions to eject players.

The measure will be presented at the organization’s winter meetings Jan. 16-19 in Orlando, Fla. It could be voted on then or at USA Hockey’s annual congress in June. The rule could take effect as early as next season.

“USA Hockey needs to adopt the Junior A hockey rule change proposal at the winter meeting in January,” said Stuart, a Mayo Clinic orthopedic surgeon and concussion expert with three sons who have played in the N.H.L. “I look forward to a healthy debate with anyone who feels that fighting has a role in a game played by amateur student-athletes.” [NY Times]

You can click here for details of the proposed changes.

Currently, the USA Hockey system bans fighting in lower-tiered junior leagues as well as college hockey. The Junior A system, which includes the United States Hockey League and North American Hockey League, is the only level in the system where fighting is tolerated with the National Hockey League standard.

Jeff Klein, the writer of the story, attended and reported at a summit on fighting in hockey at the Mayo Clinic in October. That was just days after George Parros's unfortunate collision with the ice during a fight led him to be taken off the ice on a stretcher, sullying the NHL's opening night buzz. Hall of Fame goaltender Ken Dryden spoke at the summit about the mounting evidence of the danger of brain trauma resulting from concussions. Since then, stories have circulated surrounding issues with brain injuries long after the end of the careers of former, popular enforcers like Scott Parker and Gino Odjick. Odjick said that he's spent 32 months in hospital since his retirement from the game in 2002.

Just three days ago, the Montreal Canadiens confirmed that Parros sustained another concussion in a fight, his second since the season began. There have been too many incidents over the last three or four years that have dealt with former enforcers dying, or winding up in hospital, for the organizations controlling the leagues not to take action. That is the purpose, theoretically, behind the CJHL's endorsement of the anti-fighting rule as well as USA Hockey's proposal to eliminate it entirely in the Junior A system.

Paul Bissonnette, the enforcer for the Phoenix Coyotes, is on pace for a both a career-low in fights and a career-high in points. He's talked with his head coach Dave Tippett about changing his role and told the National Post's Sean Fitz-Gerald on Wednesday that “I think it will end up going down to, if you fight once, you’re out of the game. And if it comes to that, there’s really no point in having a guy in the lineup that’s just going to fight once and be out."

Indeed, while I hate to editorialize, there's something sickening of the crowd rising to its feet as two young men trade blows as centre ice. Tyler Dellow, who blogs at mc79hockey, noted last fall that boxing is illegal for people at the age of 17 or under in Ontario without specific approval, and that's presumably consistent with many regulatory commissions across North America that, somehow, allow fighting as long as the combatants are on skates.

It seems that a lot of hockey's regulatory bodies have come on board with the idea that fighting is more dangerous than the acts it's supposed to prevent. But leagues that permit fighting still have to work full-time to discipline the multitude of illegal checks and slashes that an enforcer is called upon to protect his players from. The NHL has already suspended 28 players this season, the Ontario Hockey League has six players currently serving suspension, and the discipline pages from the Western and Quebec leagues are large enough to fill the phone book of a small nation. These are the leagues that continue to permit fighting and, by extension, provide the NHL with the Parkers, Odjicks and Parros's of the future.

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