Perhaps surprisingly, it took until the third-last weekend of the regular season for a player to step across the Ontario Hockey League's fight threshold.
The league passed the rule before the season with an eye to eliminating "needless fighting." Sunday, Peterborough Petes captain and Philadelphia Flyers sixth-rounder Derek Mathers became the first player to incur a suspension for having more than 10 fights, which the OHL confirms will keep him out of four of the Petes' last five games since he took the instigator penalty.
Mathers and burly signed Toronto Maple Leafs draft pick David Broll tussled at the end of the first period in the Petes-Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds contest. The 11th fight is supposed to meant at least a two-game ban. It's doubled due to the instigator, as per league rules. That leaves the Petes without a team leader until the last regular-season game on March 17.
It might go to show player behaviour will not always be deterred by knowing fighting means a suspension. In this case, Broll did something which could be construed as taking a liberty with the Petes captain and their emotional and spiritual leader, flipping a puck and hitting Mathers. It wasn't exactly in Daniel Alfredsson hitting Scott Niedermayer territory.
From Mike Davies:
Broll flipped a puck after the buzzer which hit Mathers starting the fight. Mathers busted Broll open with a punch but because it's his 11th bout this season he receives an automatic two-game suspension under a new OHL rule this season to curb fighting. Mathers will receive a two-game suspension for each fight he has the rest of the regular season. (Peterborough Examiner)
The laugh line — figures, he's a Flyers pick — is obvious.
In the big picture, up until Sunday, Mathers has embodied what the rule was intended to effect. The 19-year-old has become an all-around power winger for the Petes, having scored close to a point per game while helping a team which seemed hopelessly out of playoff contention at Christmas time claw back from being 16 points out to four with five games to play. He had 22 fights last season, plus two more during an AHL call-up. With that concern lessened, he has been freed up to play. Mathers has still had to do his thing when it was deemed necessary.
Here's how the league worded the rule change in September.
If a player is deemed to be the instigator in any of the fights above the ten (10) game threshold, such player would be assessed an automatic four (4) game suspension in addition to any other penalties assessed.
League vice-president Ted Baker confirmed it's four games.
Peterborough's next two home games are against one of the teams it's chasing, Kingston, and last-place Ottawa. Coincidentally, Frontenacs wing Jean Dupuy is one fight away from incurring a suspension and defenceman Ryan Hutchinson has two remaining.
Mathers' absence will affect the Petes. In the big picture, they had accrued a lot of benefits from his improvement and him having fewer absences of five minutes or longer across the entire course of the season. That's something to keep in mind if Peterborough does fall shy of eighth place in the Eastern Conference. Granted, they put together a good second half after trading away marquee players.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet. Please address any questions, comments or concerns to firstname.lastname@example.org (video: Shaw Television).