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Junior Hockey on Cusp of a Revolution: Trying to Stop Fighting


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FRESNO, Calif. — Viewing fighting as a safety issue in light of increasing concussion research, and unwilling to wait for the National Hockey League to propose changes, USA Hockey and Hockey Canada are seriously considering rules that would effectively end fighting in nonprofessional leagues as soon as next season.

The rules would apply to dozens of leagues stretching from near the Arctic Circle to south Texas. Even the three top junior leagues in Canada, major fight-friendly feeder systems to the N.H.L., are considering immediate ways to make fighting a rarity, not an expectation.

“The appetite is there,” said David Branch, the president of the Canadian Hockey League, which oversees the Ontario Hockey League, the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and the Western Hockey League. “The time is certainly right to move forward.”

Hockey has long been a rare team sport that widely condones the interruption of a game so two or more players can trade punches. But for boys starting at age 16 or so, from the rough-and-tumble junior leagues to the N.H.L., fighting has usually been minimally penalized (often with five minutes in the penalty box) and thus widely practiced, condoned, even celebrated.

That may change soon. The increased recognition of the long-term dangers of brain trauma, across all sports, has forced hockey’s leaders to consider ways to reduce blows to the head.

The issue has dominated meetings of hockey’s umbrella organizations this season. Most leaders believe that rules to deter fighting will be significantly stiffened during organization-wide meetings this summer.

“The official stance from Hockey Canada is that we want to get rid of fighting as quickly as we can,” said Bob Nicholson, the organization’s chief executive, overseeing more than half a million amateur players across Canada, including about 32,000 adults and 10,000 juniors (16 to 20 years old) not in the top-tier Canadian Hockey League. “Our ultimate goal is to remove fighting.”

For decades, debates centered on whether hockey could survive without fighting. It is viewed by some as a necessary thermostat regulating the heat of a physical game, and by others as a way to draw bigger audiences.

Now the talk is about how long the sport can live with fighting.

That change has perched hockey at one of the most significant crossroads of its long history, as leaders see an opening to extinguish the game’s tradition of intermittent anarchy, particularly among teenage combatants.

“One of the causes of concussions is fighting,” Branch said. “And I believe that there is more and more recognition that our game does not need fighting to survive, to be part of the entertainment package, you might say, because of the concerns of injuries and other concerns that could very well be a byproduct of fighting.”

In January, USA Hockey’s Junior Council discussed emergency legislation that would combat fighting with much harsher penalties, starting as early as next fall. The council, composed largely of junior-league commissioners, may propose a system like that used in the N.C.A.A., where players are immediately ejected for fighting and progressive suspensions are doled out for subsequent bouts. Fights in college hockey are rare.

“A switch has been flipped within the United States to address the fighting issue in junior hockey,” said John Vanbiesbrouck, a former N.H.L. goalie who leads USA Hockey’s Junior Council.

Proposed changes would be subject to the vote of USA Hockey’s board of directors, which could come in June.

“We’re an amateur sports organization that is concerned most about the safety of our members and marketing our sport,” USA Hockey’s executive director, Dave Ogrean, said. “If our penalties for fighting were more onerous, that would serve both those purposes very well.”

Changing the rules may be the easy part. Changing the culture is something else entirely.

In Fresno, Adam Gorra realized how deep the issue goes when he saw his 5-year-old son drop his gloves to the ice and raise his fists.

Gorra grew up playing hockey in Connecticut and now works as a pediatric surgeon. New to Fresno last year, he helped coach a team in a local youth league, named for and sponsored by the Fresno Monsters, a North American Hockey League junior team for boys 16 to 20.

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[The rules would apply to dozens of leagues stretching from near the Arctic Circle to south Texas. Even the three top junior leagues in Canada, major fight-friendly feeder systems to the N.H.L., are considering immediate ways to make fighting a rarity, not an expectation.

“The appetite is there,” said David Branch, the president of the Canadian Hockey League, which oversees the Ontario Hockey League, the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and the Western Hockey League. “The time is certainly right to move forward.”]

http://www.nytimes.c...on-way-out.html

Interesting...

Edited by Digityman
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[The rules would apply to dozens of leagues stretching from near the Arctic Circle to south Texas. Even the three top junior leagues in Canada, major fight-friendly feeder systems to the N.H.L., are considering immediate ways to make fighting a rarity, not an expectation.

“The appetite is there,” said David Branch, the president of the Canadian Hockey League, which oversees the Ontario Hockey League, the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and the Western Hockey League. “The time is certainly right to move forward.”]

http://www.nytimes.c...on-way-out.html

Interesting...

How many fights end up with a player getting a concussion? I think they need to look at some other things to limit concussions, like softening the equipment, getting rid of the tempered glass, etc.

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@Podein25

"I've been in many hockey fights and was never concussed. Broken nose? Sure, but that heals soon enough and the chicks dig the Riley Cote look."

And here I thought they dug the hanson brothers look. All these years I been wearing these stupid black frame glasses for nothing?

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Don Cherry on Hockey Night in Canada suggested that for next season junior leagues will have a rule in place to suspend a player after a specific number of fights. I think that number suggested was 5. Basically the rules will become stricter until fighing is basically eliminated from junior hockey.

I wouldn't be surprised if that is how fighting will be treated in the NHL also.

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@hf101 I'd be ok with 5 fights a year. At least that let's the kids go ape s**t if one of their buddies is cheap shotted or speared etc. It's enough to be a deterrant but still allows the kids to somewhat police themselves.....no fighting at all would be worse for concussions IMHO, the stickwork would be unreal. Even so, I can see opposing coachs trying to goad divisions rivals tough guys into using one of his *5* fights.

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