It wasn’t that long ago — roughly a year — that the rough and tumble side of hockey was in a public state of crisis. Strong terminology, but fair. After the deaths of active and former players Derek Boogaard, Wade Belak and Rick Rypien — which many tied directly to their propensity for fisticuffs — we’ve all had to take a long hard look at the role of fighting in hockey.

There certainly doesn’t appear to be any strong movement to abandon fighting outright. Many folks have been vocal in their criticisms, but it appears as though the NHL and NHLPA may be unified in one way — neither party wants to oust fighting. Yet, the status quo won’t do much to ease the concerns generated by fighting in the first place.

Luckily for the pro ranks, the Ontario Hockey League may have done the solving for them.

I, for one, am pro-fighting. I understand the ramifications, I understand why people think it’s stupid, but I still can’t change the fact that when a scrap breaks out on the ice I come out of my seat. It happens. It’s a reflex. I know many of you likely go a step further and engage in some pseudo-shadow boxing.

That’s the bizarre part of all of this. Most of us know better. I’ve certainly had that moment of self-awareness during a fight where I simply think, “Wow, we stopped playing a game so two dudes can punch each other. This must be the final frontier of humanity.” But it still gets us nonetheless.

I’ll be the first to admit, however, that I cannot stand the scripted fights which have become rampant in the NHL. I imagine that they come about something like, “Hey, you’re tough, right? So am I! Shall we engage in fisticuffs at about the 2:30 mark of the second period? Splendid!” Upon which they wail on one another until fatigue sets in. That’s the part of the game where I get out of my seat to refill my beverage.

The OHL instituted a new rule this season wherein any player who has amassed 10 fights is suspended two games. And another two games for every fight on top of that until he reaches 15 fights, wherein he is suspended two games and his team is fined. There are nuances, of course, such as any fight where an instigator is handed out doesn’t count against the player who didn’t pick up the extra two minutes. On the flip side, instigators for players after 10 fights pick up four game suspensions instead of two.

The results of this new system have been interesting. A common argument against suspensions as preventative measures is things happen too quickly in real time for a player to consciously consider he may be suspended for doing it. Yet, fighting is down 20 percent across the league. You’d be hard-pressed to sell this as coincidence.

The issue even made its way into the New York Times:

“It’s definitely in the back of guys’ heads — they know,” said Bilcke, a 6-foot-2, 217-pound 18-year-old fourth-liner with a friendly demeanor. “Guys are more cautious. I think there’s a lot less dirty games, and play isn’t getting out of hand as much.”

That was in evidence at a recent Windsor-Barrie Colts game here. The teams drew together in a seething mass during warm-ups because a Colts player skated partly over the red line into the Spitfires’ side of the ice, but no punches were thrown and only one fight broke out during the game. In the past, such an incident would have been the prelude to a brawl-filled evening.

“Generally, it’s done a decent job of getting rid of the staged fights,” Windsor Coach Bob Boughner said. “I don’t think it’s an antifighting rule, but the league wants to see fighting curbed. They don’t want to see a player get 30 or 40 fights in a season, and I have some agreement with that.”

Those of you who read that story will also be entertained by a lovely Twitter quote from Brian McGrattan: “Feel sorry for those kids that cant fight in junior and are gonna have to learn the hard way in pro gettin their head punched in.”

The irony here, of course, is that while McGrattan was a tough player in junior, he didn’t actually fight all that much. When he did it generally came with misconducts that inflated his PIM totals. Having seen it first hand, I can vouch for McGrattan being a fairly capable power forward with a hell of a snapshot. He had to pick up fighting to complete the leap and his record has been fairly good.

He was in no way hindered by not being able to fight at any given moment. The skating is what did him in. There are always going to be plenty of players who decide that becoming a scrapper is the only way to make the jump, but your body can only take so much punishment. While they’ll no doubt be more prone to getting their asses kicked early on, perhaps by saving some of that punishment for when they’re older and stronger and not children is the way to go.

The key here is that it appears the OHL has found a way to bring down fight totals. While I don’t think something necessarily needs to be done, if the NHL is to progress with respect to how it handles head trauma diminishing fights is a natural first step. What’s more is this wouldn’t erase the fights which come about organically, just diminish those which add nothing to the game. Everybody is happy.

There’s no better way to flip what’s scripted than erasing it altogether.

Comments (10)

  1. How are instigator penalties administered in the OHL? How can fights happen so that they are or are not handed out.

  2. Per the official OHL Rulebook, which essentially leaves these instigator criteria to an official’s discretion:

    An instigator of an altercation shall be a player who by his actions or demeanor clearly pursues an opponent who is a nonwilling combatant ; attacks or jumps his opponent and proceeds to throw punches. The player may also demonstrate any/some of the following criteria: distance traveled; gloves off first; first punch thrown; menacing attitude or posture; verbal instigation or threats; conduct in retaliation to a prior game (or season) incident; obvious retribution for a previous incident in the game or season.

    A player who is deemed to be the instigator of an altercation shall be assessed an instigating minor penalty, a major penalty for fighting and a ten-minute misconduct.
    If a player is deemed to be the instigator of his second altercation in the same game, he shall be assessed an instigating minor penalty, a major penalty for fighting and a game misconduct.

    A player who is deemed to be both the instigator and aggressor of an altercation shall be assessed an instigating minor penalty, a major penalty for fighting, a ten-minute misconduct (instigator) and a game misconduct penalty (aggressor).

  3. Read two paragraphs and realized that the writer is a huge dork

  4. I’m a fight fan. As in hardcore-fight-fan-hardly-watches-the-game-for-years-fan. Part of me miss the 80s and 90s but I realize it’s not coming back. Instead I look to the 70s. No, not the bench clearing brawls and insane shenanigans that is the first thing that comes to mind. I mean the fact that even the uber-goons like Schultz could actually play. People that are not fight fans on the same silly level as me and others in the hockey fight community talk about staged fights alot. Fact is they are rare. Two McGrattans squaring of at a face off usually means they’re settling something or at the very least do it to wake up their team. Completely without reason is rare. Putting a mic on George Laraque has really screwed us fight fans…

    The point I’m getting to (yes, there is one!) is that the instigator penalty gotta go. Moderate fight fans – I put you Chris in that category – wants players that are not one dimensional policing themselves and their teammates rather than having less skilled guys going through the motions and drop the gloves after asking the other guy politely. That’s not gonna happen with the instigator penalty. At least not with the super special multicolor random 27 minute game misconduct Gary Bettman package of love-penalty ™.

    Rant over. Since it’s a b*tch typing on an iPad. I could go on for ever :)

    • “Fact is they are rare. Two McGrattans squaring of at a face off usually means they’re settling something or at the very least do it to wake up their team. Completely without reason is rare.”

      True. The reason 95% of the time is to justify their jobs. Scripted fighting between true goons is a waste of time. It doesn’t wake up their team in a big way. And the only thing the are settling is the fact that one of them won the last staged fight.

      And yes, I come from the era of the 70′s as well. I agree a lot of the big tough guys could play but then the league wasn’t as fast nor could most everyone skate well. So they didn’t stick out as much then as they do now. They could actually play a bit of a role other than goon now and again.

      And yes, the instigator as it is, has to go. But the goons won’t go after the non goons anyways. It is part of their code. And them, and that part of the code, is past its sell by date..just like line brawls are.

      • The 70s comparison has its flaws for sure. What I’m saying is that there is plenty of room in todays NHL for guys like Milan Lucic and Ryan Clowe from the “really good players that fight”-category, Carcillo and Rinaldo from the “pests/checkers that can skate and chip in a goal every now and then”-category and even the Shawn Thornton/Tim Jackman (Why the heff was Tim Jackman the second player that came to mind? :)) “Brawlers/enforcers/fighters that have enough hockey smarts to position themselves well on the ice”-category. And yes, all those categories are trademarked. Personally I think there could be room for the McGrattan/MacIntyre-category as well but I realize they’re probably a dying breed.

        As for line brawls… might sound weird but an increase in line brawls would actually be a good sign for the moderate fight fan. Pretty much every line brawl there’s been comes from a reaction and not a scripted play date between the players involved. That includes the NJ – Rangers brawl from last season even if it for the untrained eye looked “scripted” and “pointless”.

  5. I love it. If your a gritty 3rd liner who fights 4-5 times a season, it doesn’t even effect you but it cuts down on the dancing bears who’s sole purpose is to fight. It will make enforcers actually have to enforce, rather than creating a side show just because they’re bored from sitting on the bench for 55 minutes.

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