Let’s be honest. When we attend a hockey game, we want to see goals. Lots of goals. Whether if it’s a Zdeno Chara booming slap shot or Pavel Datsyuk featuring another goalie in a highlight reel goal, we love seeing the red light lamp. Another thing that gets fans standing up are the fights. There are a lot of players who made a career not by scoring goals but dropping the gloves and protecting their star player. Guys like Marty McSorley, Bob Probert, and Tie Domi became household names and fan favorites because of fighting.
But we are in a new age of sport, where head injuries and concussions are under a greater microscope than ever before. Because we have more research about the dangerous long-term effects of concussions and head injuries (see Probert and Jim McMahon), we have levied more severe penalties for head checking and fighting. A new rule in place in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) that places a cap on fights before he serves a suspension has led to a 20 percent decrease in fights.
According to an article published in the New York Times, the rule states that a player who fights more than 10 times will receive an automatic two-game suspension each additional time he fights. Once he reaches 15 fights, his team is also fined $1,000 for each additional time he fights. Also, any player who receives an instigator penalty after reaching the 10-fight level will be suspended four games.
So far this season there have been average of .71 fights per game, compared to .91 fights last season. If the new rule would have been in place last season, 25 players would have been suspended under the rule. Ty Bilcke, a 6-foot-2, 217-pound 18-year-old fourth-liner with the Windsor Spitfires vowed to get in 40 fights last season. He ended up with 37 in 62 games, 14 more than the next person in the list of most fights by player. The OHL plays 68 regular season games. He has dropped the gloves less often this year, as he has six fights in 26 games this season, and is on pace to finish with 18. “Our league is definitely better because of it,” Bilcke said. “Guys are more cautious. I think there’s a lot less dirty games, and play isn’t getting out of hand as much.”
This rule has also led players to be more selective when fighting. Players are more likely to fight when trying to provide a spark for their team or stick up for their goalie or another teammate. You will see less “staged” fights and players fighting for no reason. Windsor bench boss Bob Boughner think players will now pick and choose when to fight. “You can only do it so many times, so make sure you’re sticking up for a teammate or trying to change the flow of the game or something like that,” he said. “But to fight for no reason? Especially with this rule, it doesn’t make sense anymore.”
The interesting fact, is this was brought up almost a year ago. After the summer 2011 deaths of known enforcers Rick Rypien, Derek Boogaard and others, hockey leaders started thinking of ideas to discourage fighting at the junior level that feature players between 15 and 20-years-old.
If this rule shows to have some sort of success, don’t be surprised of it is applied to the NHL in the next couple years. There isn’t a need for this rule in the collegiate level, where players are ejected from the current game and are suspended for as as many times as you’ve fought during the season. This is why fights at the NCAA level are uncommon. Others levels of hockey including European, IIHF and Olympic hockey also have severe penalties for fighting.