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2012 MasterCard Memorial Cup: Mixed message on headshots, staged fighting?

Neate Sager
Buzzing The Net

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Saint John's Grant West and Shawinigan's Vincent Arseneau tangled in a staged fight on Wednesday (The Canadian …

SHAWINIGAN, Que. — Canadian Hockey League commish David Branch, in a roundabout way, is making sure he will have more than softball questions lobbed at him during his annual state-of-the-CHL press conference on Friday.

In a season that was marked by stiff suspensions for checks to the head and musings about reducing staged fighting, well, old-school hockey has made a comeback at the tournament. Teams get fined for getting out of control, but there's often a reluctance to suspend a player from a short tournament.

From John MacKinnon:

On Thursday, the CHL fined both the Shawinigan Cataractes and Saint John Sea Dogs were fined $2,500 for a variety of on-ice shenanigans that occurred during Saint John's 4-1 victory over Shawinigan on Wednesday night.

The game ended with a couple of staged fights starting off face-offs with less than one minute remaining, but the game included a variety of cheap shots from players on both teams, bitter rivals in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

Another curious point at this tournament:

CHL and Ontario Hockey League commissioner Dave Branch is a progressive on the issue of fighting and head shots in hockey. He is on record saying it is time to eliminate fighting, particularly the staged fights, from the game.

There have only been three or four fights during the tournament, but during at least two of them, the Sportsnet roving cameraman on skates has sped onto the ice to capture the action. (Edmonton Journal)

The gameday staff at Centre Bionest have also played the Rocky theme at times when altercations have broken out. Shawinigan's Vincent Arseneau has fought twice in the tournament, which is impressive coming in a span of three games.

Then there's the issue of headshots. First it was Jonathan Huberdeau's elbow to the head of London's Matt Rupert, then Vladislav Namestnikov's contact to the head of Edmonton's Klarc Wilson that ripped the visor off the right wing's helmet. Shawinigan's Jonathan Racine also got just a two-minute minor Thursday for an obvious elbow to the head on Saint John's Tomas Jurco.

Sportsnet's Patrick King wondered if there was a different if not double standard.

All three leagues under the CHL's umbrella (OHL, WHL and QMJHL) have different standards for head shots. But given their lengthy suspensions in the regular season and the supposed crackdown to eliminate hits like Namestnikov's from the game, it's truly mystifying how Namestnikov didn't at least serve two minutes.

There are many factors at play here, but if Namestnikov goes unpunished, it makes one wonder just how serious the league is with regards to eliminating head shots. This was a missed call and a missed opportunity to legitimize their claims.

Namestnikov is a star player and a valuable member of his team, which will help him escape discipline. Jonathan Huberdeau of the Sea Dogs, for example, wasn't suspended for his elbow to Knights winger Matt Rupert's head from Saturday's game. (Sportsnet, May 23)

Does the brevity of the tournament lend itself to shifting priorities? It does seem like the focus is more on a belief suspending a player from a four-game event would draconian.

Ultimately, the Memorial Cup might just be different. Each league, as King noted, makes its own rules. So the contrast might be more stark if Branch and the Ontario Hockey League go it alone on passing anti-fighting rules.

Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at neatesager@yahoo.ca and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.

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