Last season, Ontario Hockey League commissioner David Branch strongly indicated that his league would suspend players who fight frequently. Say whatever you want about whether this merely goes after a symptom of hockey violence instead of getting to the root of the problem. Or whether there other issues of player safety that are in more dire need of addressing. This seems like an incremental step toward outright removing fighting from junior hockey.
Thirty-one players in the OHL had at least 10 fighting majors last season, with Windsor's Ty Bilcke accumulating 37 and Erie's Johnny McGuire and Peterborough's Derek Mathers (a Philadelphia Flyers draft pick) also reaching 20. Going by the report TSN's Darren Dreger delivered last night, it seems like there could be some graduated scale for the "serial fighter" and his team.
"I expect an announcement from the Ontario Hockey League in the next few days that will be specific to the serial fighter. The guy who fights better than 10 times in a season. So look for suspensions a fighter that fights between 11 and 15 times and then, if it's 16 or more, a suspension and a team fine. And the National Hockey League will pay close attention. (TSN)
London beat writer Ryan Pyette also noted this will soon be the new normal:
The OHL is on the verge of new laws featuring stiff penalties for frequent pugilists, eventually forcing tough guys to think before they drop their mitts. (London Free Press)
It's possible the league was already trending in that direction. While an average of 1½ players per team reached double digits in donnybrooks, only five had 16 fights. (In conformity with popular belief, pugilism is more popular in the Western Hockey League.) So it remains to be seen how many suspensions will come out of this, let alone how stiff the punishment would be, but one had to know its fits with Branch's usual style of trying lead opinion.
As Branch put it to Mike Farwell, late last season:
"As a league, we have the responsibility to lead. So when you look at, internally, the signals are very strong as to the understanding and the need to make adjustments in the style of play as it relates to fighting. We've had two different committees in our league. All have been unanimous in their support of addressing the issue of fighting and seeing what we can do to reduce the number of fights ... When I visit with minor hockey parents, when I walk through arenas, the comments are so very, very positive about what the OHL is doing, what hockey is doing, because their son or daughters who plays the games, that's the most precious thing they have." (570 News Kitchener, March 1, 2012)
For anyone wondering, according to hockeyfights.com, 20 Quebec League players fought at least 10 times last season, but only three did so at least 16 times (using the Dreger-furnished magic number).
Branch is scheduled to appear on a conference call at 11 a.m. ET/8 p.m. PT on Wednesday, presumably to discuss the matter.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.
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