Buzzing The Net - Junior Hockey

Ontario Hockey League commissioner David Branch had a creative explanation for his league's new rule which takes effect Friday, calling for a game misconduct and one-game suspension for any players who "fight, prior to, or at the drop of the puck at the commencement of any period."

What brought this on? Branch told Prime Time Sports on Wednesday that he's concerned about OHL players popping the age-old question — you wanna go? — over the Internet.

"What the new rule is to address those situations we feel, certainly at our level, have crept in at the start of the game or the start of the period, but particularly at the start of the game," Branch said on Toronto's FAN 590 (audio).

"The puck hits the ice, two players drop their gloves and go at it ... you could reasonably suggest it's been premediated and arrangements were made.

"I know through some focus groups we had with some of our players on social networking, ... that is one of the things that has been happening, where players have been, you know, prearranging what might occur in the way by way of physical interaction for the next time they meet," added Branch.

"We're addressing that and hope [the rule] will serve to remove it."

Teams will also be nailed with a $500 fine, which would increase with repeat offences. Players who reoffend could also receiver longer suspensions.

Please bear in mind this only covers the opening faceoff of a period. Given that Branch noted such altercations are a rarity, "So far in this playing season, in approximately 200 games, we've had 10 such incidents," this could be categorized as window-dressing. Does it matter how and when two players consented to fight?

Ultimately, this is a small step toward limiting staged fights, which can seem contrived even to hockey lovers who tolerate fisticuffs. It is a small positive.

'Why wait?'

This is not the first time Branch and the OHL have introduced a new rule in mid-season. Whether it is reactive or reactionary, the league typically has not waited. It made throat guards mandatory in mid-season two seasons ago.

"Some people are saying, 'you're going to introduce this now?' and the answer is, 'yeah,' " he said. "We did that with our helmet rule, with our throat protector rule, with our head checking rule. Why wait? There's some rules that you shouldn't have to deal with in the middle of the year, but with this you shouldn't have to wait for something to happen."

Branch, who is also president of the Canadian Hockey League, noted the long-term plan is to have a consistent rule across all three leagues.

What about one unintended consequence — a fringe player trying to get a more talented, noncombative opponent ejected?

"If one player is deemed to be clearly the aggressor, only that player would be ejected," Branch said.

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

(Photo: Aaron Bell, OHL Images.)

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