Thu Oct 25 11:30am EDT
If you had the impression that on-ice fights in the Ontario Hockey League are fewer and farther between, well, you're correct.
Prior to the season, the OHL instituted a fight threshold (modelled on a rule enacted two seasons ago by the Alberta Junior Hockey League which has spread to several other Junior A circuits) whereby players would be suspended for having more than 10 fights per season, with some grace for tilts where the other combatant received an instigator penalty. (And more minor penalties for instigating are being meted out.) The impact was immediate and it appears it has been sustained throughout the first five weeks of the season.
Fighting in the OHL is down 32.1 per cent after 119 games [prior to Wednesday, when there was one fight in three OHL games — Ed.], compared to the same number of one year ago.
That's far more than most people expected, including OHL commissioner Dave Branch, who championed the fight rule during the off-season as a means of trying to remove the one-dimensional tough guy from within the league's ranks.
... [The OHL] believes that consistent application of the instigator rule, combined with the 10-game fight limit, will reduce the number of instances when a player has to answer the bell because of delivering a clean and fair bodycheck.
"That player who has a clean body check and suddenly turns around and there's a player waiting for him there to fight … that fight, if there is one, won't count in his total number (of fights)," said Branch. "And hopefully that, in some way, will take away from these needless fights because there's been a clean body check."
How effective that has yet been is tough to say since there have certainly been instances this season where a clean hit does indeed turn into a fight. However, the fact that nearly 27 per cent of all fights have involved an instigator penalty so far this season suggests the OHL is sticking to its determination to single-out those who reply to legal hits with fisticuffs. (TSN)
It remains to be seen how this will affect the game once players get near the limit. It's early yet — OHL vice-president Ted Baker cautioned as much — but the new rules appear to be effective, pending whether any OHL GM decides to heed Sportsnet analyst Nick Kypreos' suggestion from a while back to add some "Tier II goon" who can quickly use up his 10 fights while occupying a lineup spot.
The rule is about reducing and restoring fighting to what it was in the era of John Ferguson or Sprague Cleghorn (Google him). It was an adjunct of what a tough guy brought to the table, not a primary function. Ryan Pyette noted that is what has happened with at least two formerly frequent fighters.
Windsor's Ty Bilcke, who led the league with 37 regular-season scraps last year, has four to date.
Peterborough's Derek Mathers, the 6-foot-3, 231-pound Philadelphia Flyers draft pick from Strathroy, fought 49 times in his first two OHL seasons combined.
This season, he has only dropped the mitts twice.
His Petes play London Thursday, and Knights coach Dale Hunter has to consider Mathers' presence setting his lineup.
"He's a tough kid," Hunter said. "You'll see how we handle it with the players we dress (small and fast vs. a mix featuring bigger bodies)." (London Free Press)
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.