B.C. native Dylan Chanter had a seizure after striking his head on the ice on Saturday (Twitter)The scary seizure that Armstrong, B.C., native and University of New Hampshire hockey recruit Dylan Chanter suffered as the direct result of a fight in a United States league game last weekend was a shock to a system which has built up a tolerance to seeing teenagers bare-knuckle box in front of a few thousand cheering fans.
Status quo'ers, and they are not wholly wrong, might argue that the issue here is less that fighting is not an automatic ejection in higher-tier junior leagues and centre on the fact Chanter's helmet fell off his head on its own, leading to an "accidental outcome" that was disastrous and disturbing. In another time, the powers that be might concluded this was an anomaly, but who's to say this could not recur?
Since the injury, USHL commissioner Skip Prince has made the media rounds, saying the league will review its policy of tolerating fighting. Whether that actually begets decisive action or simply some rules tweaking remains to be seen, but the point is that the league will undergo some intensive soul-searching.
The trenchant parts from Prince's statement:
We want to face squarely the questions that have arisen as to the circumstances that caused the injury - that is, that Mr. Chanter and a Cedar Rapids player were engaged in a short altercation, with the injury occurring when both players fell and Mr. Chanter's head hit the ice. The injury was the accidental and unintended outcome of an infraction that resulted in a fighting major penalty to both players.
"Still, it raises the question as to whether those penalties should have been, or should in the future be made, even more severe in order to curtail them from occurring.
"The USHL, working with USA Hockey and the National Hockey League, implemented a comprehensive Player Safety Initiative commencing with the 2012-13 season. That initiative was designed to reduce dangerous play in a number of areas, including but not limited to fighting. The series of new rules and procedures called for, among other matters, active intervention by on-ice officials when dangerous play occurred on the ice; League video review of all 'dangerous play' penalties, including altercations; and progressively increasing discipline, including multiple game suspensions, for recidivist behavior by players. They included a requirement that players not remove their helmets (or any other equipment) on the ice for any reason – a rule designed to protect the players' head, neck, and other vulnerable areas. While neither player removed his helmet last night, Mr. Chanter's had been dislodged during the altercation, thus adding to the seriousness of the injury when he fell to the ice. To that extent, the rule did not protect the player in this instance.
"I have asked the USHL Competition Committee, made up of owners and general managers, to work with the League's Hockey Operations Senior Advisor, its Director, and USA Hockey to both investigate this incident, and our rules, to determine how to further reduce dangerous play generally, and this type of incident in particular. Fights occur more rarely in the USHL than any other top tier property – our average number of fights per game this season hovers between .42 and .45 fights per game (in other words, an average of about one fight every two and a half games). However, that statistic is of little solace when an injury occurs to one of our players, all of whom have significant hockey futures in NCAA Division I hockey and many of whom progress to the NHL and professional hockey.
One can see where this is headed. At first junior leagues denied this was even a problem. Then came incremental progress toward reducing the frequency of fighting. Now there's an awareness even such measures might not be enough to prevent a fatality or a catastrophic injury.
Prince isn't tipping his hand, though, telling the Dubuque Telegraph-Herald, "I’m not sure what the next steps are ... I don’t want to bias a committee that I am frankly trying to stay arm’s length from. I want to make sure they have the independent opportunity to review this." One cannot rule out that the USHL review will not recommend any radical change. By the time they decide, though, how many more will decide they don't need or want to see teenage players fighting, even if they reconcile that it's going to happen?
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet. Please address any questions, comments or concerns to email@example.com.