Fighting in Junior hockey is on the way out. Or at least it will be if USA Hockey and Hockey Canada get their way.
A recent New York Times story documented the efforts of USA Hockey and Hockey Canada to ban fighting at the Junior level. It is sure to be a hot button topic and met with passionate resistance from perhaps many fans, coaches and players.
In the new climate of heightened sensitivity surrounding injuries and fighting in hockey, this is a topic I’ve spent a great deal of time reflecting on. In fact, I wrote about this very topic in the wake of the tragic deaths of Derek Boogaard, Wade Belak and Rick Rypien. It was admittedly knee-jerk on my part. Drawing conclusions and maybe making too many generalizations, but the heart of the piece was about curtailing fights in Junior hockey.
I have no issue with fighting in professional hockey. Those guys get paid to do what they do. Some make a very comfortable living. In the small markets of the minor leagues, fighting is probably a big factor in what keeps people herding through the turnstiles.
It’s a different story in Junior hockey. These kids don’t get paid (for the most part). While fighting might fill a few seats here and there, the more significant number of people who go to USHL games are families looking to have a little fun at the arena. Maybe it’s different in the Canadian Hockey League, but I’d imagine a good deal of the folks heading to rinks across the little big towns in Canada are going to get a glimpse of future NHL stars. Whether those future stars knock the snot out of each other is irrelevant to their enjoyment.
Besides, who over the age of 20 would want to admit that the reason they go to Junior hockey games is to watch a 17-year-old get pumped by a 19-year-old?
Soon, it appears Junior hockey will be a fight-free zone in both the United States and Canada, which is a very good thing in my opinion.
The Times article focused a bit more on the heightened sensitivity toward concussions and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). CTE has often been linked with concussions, but concussions are not the sole cause of CTE.
CTE can be more closely linked to repeated head trauma, which will not necessarily result in concussions.
It is very important to understand that the rule to ban fighting is indeed a plot to reduce concussions, but more specifically, it is a quest to reduce instances of contact to the head. Fighting will not always, but often result in one or more blows to the head. If you are unaware, every fighter’s goal is to connect his fist with his opponent’s face as many times as possible.
Another huge factor in this debate is the difference between the teenage brain and the adult brain. The teenage brain is more succeptable to brain trauma and yes, concussions, putting them at a greater risk for CTE.
According to Dr. Robert Cantu, the co-director of Boston University’s Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy, younger brains are not as myelinated, meaning they have less insulation than brains of adults. Also, boys’ necks are weaker than those of adults. Their heads are disproportionately large for their bodies.
“That sets up a younger person to have injuries to the brain that are greater than those sustained at a later age from the same force,’’ Cantu said. “It takes more force later on to produce the same injury.
“It’s important not to have a head injury at any age. It’s particularly important not to have it at a young age. Fighting is certainly to be discouraged, especially at young ages, for those reasons.’’
Junior hockey players’ brains bounce around an awful lot already, thanks to the contact inherent in hockey. It is difficult to eliminate that. It is far easier to take out the specific occasion where contact to the head is not only allowed, but basically a necessity for success.
According to the data compiled by the New York Times through Sunday, there have been a total of 2,305 fights in the top five North American Junior leagues this year. Here’s how it breaks down: 1. WHL (704), 2. OHL (574), 3. QMJHL (408) , 4. NAHL (405), 5. USHL (214).
The fighting proponents have often correctly argued that most concussions occur due to the natural contact of the game and not fighting. That is generally true, however knowing what we know about CTE, any amount of contact to the head can be bad.
USA Hockey and Hockey Canada can point to 2,305 instances so far this year, in which contact to the head could have simply been avoided all together with a new rule. To significantly lower that number would go a long way in protecting players.
“Fighting is part of the game.” That will be the argument you hear every five minutes about this. I believe there is a place for it in the pro game, where there are million-dollar assets in need of protecting and I have no problem with adults policing the game. If these guys get hurt fighting, there is a safety net in that they are under contract and will continue to earn a living.
However, there isn’t a level of hockey where fighting has put a stop to dirty and injurious hits. If the bad hits and “taking of liberties” has been at all curtailed, it has been minimal at best. There are questionable hits weekly in hockey’s most visible league. The threat of fights clearly isn’t stopping anyone.
Another common argument is that removing fighting would lead to more stick work and more dangerous hits. There is a potentially valid concern there, but I’d argue that there won’t be 2,305 instances of hits resulting in contact to the head.
Furthermore, should a 16-to-20-year-old kid with ill-controlled emotions be in charge of policing the game? No. That’s why there are referees. If it means stricter penalties for stick work, roughing and dirty hits, then make those rules.
Hockey is emotional and the blood will boil. There are going to be times where players snap. However, if a major, plus a game misconduct is the penalty, perhaps the players will be forced to find an alternative and perhaps more constructive method. If they can’t find an alternative, they drop the gloves and take the five and the game. In that instance, fighting isn’t completely quashed, but it is significantly curtailed. If there’s no other option for a player and he feels he needs to fight, then he can deal with the consequences.
Admittedly, a rule change will only go so far. A culture change will also have to take place. The one thing I’ve heard a few times is that taking fighting out will cause players to play with less respect. Why does it have to be that way? Why does fighting alone command respect? When was respecting your opponent optional in any sport? Relying on fighting to keep respect in the game sounds profoundly silly to me. What have we taught our young hockey players?
The culture change may not take terribly long, as players who were allowed to fight get cycled out. Players coming into Junior hockey all come from leagues that do not allow fighting. It won’t be much of a transition those players to go from a league that doesn’t allow fighting to go to another league that doesn’t allow fighting.
There is also an argument that fighting is a skill that is to be developed and if you take it out of Junior hockey, these players won’t know how to defend themselves when they get to the big leagues. Enter Bob Boughner, head coach of the Windsor Spitfires:
“We’re on a very, very dangerous slope,” Boughner said.
“We’re preparing guys for the next level and if you toughen the rules and get rid of it (fighting) in the game, it would have to coincide with the NHL and AHL.
“If they’re not doing it, then you’re putting kids (looking to go pro) in a tough situation.”
A fair point, but George Parros seemed to have a pretty good idea about how to defend himself. He did play one year of Junior hockey (for the former Chicago Freeze in the NAHL), where he fought, but he spent the following four years at Princeton, where he couldn’t fight. Parros had a few years in the minors where he was able to further hone his craft. He’s not an overly skilled guy, but clearly someone saw enough toughness in him to give him a shot without seeing him fight as much.
Most players who will have to drop the gloves regularly in the NHL aren’t skilled enough to make it directly from Junior to the pros. Let them hone their fighting skills in the minors, where they’ll get a paycheck, if you’re so concerned they won’t know how to defend themselves.
Is this going to limit opportunities for less-skilled kids as Boughner alleges? It just might. That’s an unfortunate side-effect of this, but it is a pill worth swallowing for the vast majority of players it will protect. If a player is good enough to play Junior hockey, he will have a place whether he can fight or not and will still have the opportunity to further his career.
Do the players want this? Of course not, as documented in The New York Times by Jeff Z. Klein. They feel they are old enough and experienced enough to protect and defend themselves. They might be right. However, what the players may not realize is that what happens to their brain at 16 can have a profound affect on their life at 50.
There is an inherent risk every time a player hits the ice that he will receive head trauma or a concussion. There is an inherent risk in getting out of bed in the morning. Those are the types of risk you can’t do a lot to manage, though both USA Hockey and Hockey Canada have taken significant steps in the last year to strengthen penalties for checks that make contact with the head.
I have been a huge proponent of managing risk in the game. There are 2,305 specific instances one can point to in Junior hockey this year, where the administrators have a chance to not only manage risk, but eliminate it. USA Hockey and Hockey Canada are only doing what they feel is in the best interest of their Junior hockey players and their long-term safety.
This is an issue that will be debated passionately, but the fighting proponents better prepare for Junior hockey without fighting. It is not a matter of “if” it will be eliminated, it is a matter of “when.”
Everyone loves a good fight, but is it really necessary for a 16- or 17-year-old kid to prove himself with his fists and not his hockey ability? It shouldn’t be and won’t be very soon.
Have you ever played hockey at a high level mr writer? The thing I am noticing is the people who understand the game, have played the game, know the game all are in favor of not only leaving fighting in hockey but to remove the instigator to make players more accountable for their actions.
On the flip side the people that observe hockey from a distance, have never played, don’t necessarily understand the nuances in the game, (all of which include a lot of the members of media.) All they see is “the fight,” and think “how barbaric.” There is no grasp of the emotion or momentum, no background on why the fight broke out, no concept of what would happen without fighting. All they see is “the fight.” I have seen and have been in fights that have years of history as a lead up. So and so hit my buddy in bantam hockey from behind in the playoffs. 3 years later in junior it’s time to get at it and bot guys know why. This does happen.
Eliminating fighting from the junior ranks is a dangerous move especially considering the fact that the pro leagues would continue to have it. In 3 years you would have junior players who haven’t fought in their entire career entering the pro leagues and fighting guys who have made a career out of it. How are you going to feel if your in your 1st pro season and the coach taps you on the shoulder and says “go get him.” The problem being that “him” is Chris Neil and it’s your job to go out in one of your first hockey fights of your life and fight a guy who has made a living doing it. That is a hell of a lot more dangerous than having guys fight on even terms all the way up. All of a sudden we wouldn’t be talking about a concussion here and there. We would be talking about reconstructive surgery, ICU, coma’s, emergency brain surgery, etc and I know I am not exaggerating and am certainly not joking.
A similar analogy would be to putting a weight lifter into the octagon with a seasoned MMA fighter and telling them to go at it. It’s not going to be pretty.
Just my two cents.
Hi Barney, thanks for your comment. Since I never played beyond high school hockey, I can’t have an opinion. Is that right? I understand the dynamics of a fight. I’ve worked in Junior hockey. I’ve worked alongside former NHL players and I’ve conversed with many hockey people on this topic. I think I get it. Maybe not from experience, but I get it.
As far as developing fighting skills” What about the 16-year-old kid who has to go fight a 19-year-old? Why put that 16-year-old at risk against an older, more physically developed fighter when he can ply his trade in the pros, with a more developed body and brain and have the protection of a pay-check. I don’t get your logic.
The argument here is not about fighting. It’s about brains. It’s about science. We know that the teenage brain is more likely to get injured from the same amount of force that would not injure an adult. Thanks again for your comment.
You never provided any statistics on how many teenage kids suffered brain damage in junior hockey as a direct consequence of a hockey fight, Mr. Facts. My guess is that there are very, very, very few. Not only that, the force with which you have to hit someone to cause brain damage, at any age, is incredible…you essentially have to break the person’s skull…all the doctor said is that the teenage brain is more susceptible, not that it is likely. When you get in a hockey fight, which you may never have, it’s like your dancing on ice, while grappling, while trying to throw punches…you’re off-balance and you can rarely land a really hard, clean punch. I don’t think you get it.
I completely respect all your opinions and am not here to say that you are wrong. I do understand your point of a 16-year-old fighting a 19-year-old, and yes in most cases the 19-year-old is more experienced with fighting. But that’s why i can almost guarantee the coach of the 16-year-old has a 19-year-old to handle that business for him. I know this because a few years ago my friend was the 16 year old at one point, and I have played the role as the 19 year old in both games and even tryouts. 90% of the time no player is forced to fight, and if you decline and it is not your job then you are not looked at any differently, so there is very little pressure from your teammates. The only time a player may be forced to fight is if he cheap shots someone, and in the hockey world that is the way we keep players safe. I will not mentions names but i have a friend who played for a major college in the U.S. one game he was retrieving a puck in the corner and was hit from behind. Due to that single concussion he lost his hockey career. The guy who did it got 2 minutes. Without fighting you would have a bunch of cheap and dirty players who may only get a slap on the wrists by the refs and not have to deal with anything else. If fighting is taken out, hockey will be full of punks who disgrace the game. This is why taking out fighting in juniors would be destructive to the game i love.
Fair points, JF. I agree that most times the 16yos don’t have to fight and have an older guy to protect them and that everyone makes the choice to fight.
I don’t feel that teenagers are best equipped to make that choice though, with their raging testosterone levels.
I feel badly for your friend, but I fear fighting wouldn’t have prevented his injury. Fighting didn’t prevent Ben Fanelli from getting his skull cracked with a dirty hit in Kitchener a few years back. He luckily resumed his career, but the road to recovery was a long one.
Yes i can see where you are coming from with Fanelli, and i agree that fighting may not have prevented my friends exact case. But I do know of first hand where an enforcer persuaded another player from going after one of their stars (he had a few choice words of what he would do to him if he touched the star player). This sort of thing does happen more than people think to, its just rarely heard about. We will never know for sure the amount of reckless hits avoided because of enforcers.
I also for got to add another point in my first address. A lot of hockey dicipline is learned during junior hockey, and the same goes for the “unwritten rules” of fighting. From being around guys who fight in juniors teaches the younger players the respect that most fighters have for each other. For example if you catch a guy good and he falls, then you layoff him. Or even before the fight if you notice the other guy is hurting somehow or just had a long shift then you let him go and ask later when your both fresh. I say this because once they reach professional hockey they know the rules and don’t become the asshole. those type of rules make it more even and give both players a better chance to protect themselves. If you look at the website Dropyourgloves.com it shows the all the fights in each league pro and junior. Looking at the 2010/2011 season, it seems that the teams that fight the most have only about 5 players who have fought more than 4 times. This just shows that fighting is a choice. Most players know what kind of roles they play with their team. If you look closely on that website it seem that more than half the fights that the experienced players have are with other experienced fighters. And most of the experienced fighters are 18 and older. I feel like they should be able to make the decision by now whether to fight or not. I just see it as part of the sport, it is very sad with the recent deaths of the long time enforcers. But without fighting in juniors most of the enforcers may have never been able to live their dream of playing pro hockey.
Growing up playing hockey, I understand the reason for fighting. Every player growing up can agree with the rules of the game. It is a heated game, this is not basketball. In juniors players develop into fighters. Some people are goal scorers, some are playmakers, some are fighters. If you look at pro hockey players, fighters more specifically, they all learned to fight in junior hockey (learned to fight the RIGHT way, and the right reasons for fighting). Its not like they go out and destroy the other teams best player in a fight, they know they are to change momentum, bring the crowd into the game and stand up for their teammates. Taking fighting out of the game at the junior level would have a terrible impact on hockey.
Take fighting out of juniors, (these players are next in line for the pros). Fast forward 10 years after this rule is put into place and look at the NHL. There would be no fighting, because no one knows how, how to fight or how to do it correctly, what you will see are two guys holding on for dear life, not wanting to be hit. The NHL would continue to look more like the NBA on ice. Hockey is a rough sport, if you arent tough and cannot handle the pressure and aggressivness, choose a different sport. These players need to develop the skills to be able to defend themselves and protect a linemate if needed. Hockey needs fighting, and taking it out of junior hockey would be a huge mistake, maybe not now for the sake of saving hits to the head, but for the future of the NHL and hockey as a whole.
Second! What hockey player would agree with this article? It’s amazing…they’re like playground hockey players, or something.
great point more people get hurt from hits than they do from fights. you also have the choice to fight you dont have to if you dont want to
Very well done article. While I disagree with your support of fighting being kept in the NHL game, (and your support seems lukewarm at best), the best way to change the culture that supports fighting is start making changes when players are young and most impressionable.
Exactly, that’s why you want to leave it in the sport!!! When the kids are young they carve out their roles! It’s not like everyone in hockey fights…enforcers mostly fight! There’s a role for it. Fighting is not even a threat, checking is far more of a threat! It’s not like hockey players take to the streets and start setling their disputes with fisticuffs outside of the rink! Wow, you are really part of the generation of coddled, oversensitized, sissy Americans. Anyone who truly loves and understand this sport, like Bobby Hull, would tell you to go f*** yourself. Sorry you got beat up in a hockey fight when you were in high school.
Thanks for reading.
I agree with most of what barney says. I would just like to add that, yes, fighting is PART OF THE GAME! When you remove part of anything, tangible or intangible, you fundamentally change that thing. These junior players, kind of like barney said, are going to have a completely different understanding of how the game is played. Not only that, but a hockey fight is like a grappling match with punching, there is rarely a clean shot landed or a punch that is thrown with full force b/c most of the time you’re holding onto the other guy’s arms. When someone does start to get pummeled, the refs jump in and break it up, and it is unspoken hockey rules to stop hitting your opponent once he goes down or once the refs come in. Not only that, but it is usually teen vs. teen in junior hockey. Anyway, the point is that fighting experience shapes the game and the players. Please stop trying to turn hockey into basketball.
Well written article, Chris….but I disagree with your opinion. It certainly sounds like fighting at the Junior A level will be outlawed next season. Like at the NCAA level, it still will not stop fighting completely….but the penalties for fighting will be much more sever than what we see currently.
Personally, I’ll be disappointed if fighting is outlawed at the USHL level (the league I follow), but it won’t cause me to give up my season tickets. I’ll still go the games and root on my favorite team. But I guarantee that some of the more non-educated “fans” will be upset and not attend as many games as they would in the past. I believe in some markets, attendance could suffer. I’m sure there are some Junior A organizations who aren’t too excited about this upcoming USA Hockey vote.
I like the idea that players (even at the junior level) are allowed to police themselves. The pace of the game even at the USHL level is unbelievably quick. Just like at the NHL level, players at the Junior A level are bigger, stronger. Players must be held accountable for their actions, and I think by removing that aspect of the game, some players will feel they can run around and play dirty without any consequences.
I worry that with fighting outlawed that you’ll see in increase in stick-related penalties, and hits from behind, and some of the other related cheap stuff you see. I think you’ll see longer games because of more extra-curricular pushing and shoving after the whistle. Players have to have an outlet.
Interesting, and passionate topic for debate.
Thanks for the comment. As I mentioned in the post, I firmly believe, and this is especially true in the USHL, that fighting doesn’t prevent much.
The officials in the USHL have gotten better in recent years and will call penalties on that nonsense. I have long felt the 16-18-year-olds are terrible policemen.
There are many fights in the USHL and moreso in the NAHL games I’ve seen (and I’ve seen many) that were fights just because they were allowed. No real reason. In fact, one I witnessed was actually set up ahead of time on facebook. True story.
As for fans, you might see a few people upset about no fighting. However, I think you’ll find it will be canceled out by the people who have stayed away because of fighting.
I also have a bit of a problem with teams profiting (barely) off of fighting teenagers. It feels kinda wrong when a 17-year-old gets the tar beat out of him by a 20-year-old and the crowd goes wild.
Good comment, though. Much appreciated.
I agree that the staged fights have to go (even at the NHL level). Without a doubt. They don’t serve a purpose at all. And like you stated, I’ve heard payers at the junior level plan them via Facebook, Twitter, etc. That’s not right.
But I don’t have a problem with the player who maybe after watching his team go down 2-0 early on in a game, tries to get his teammates and maybe even the home crowd fired up by dropping the mitts. It can be a game changer. We’ve all seen it happen in person.
her has the choice to fight you idiot
If you want to reduce fighting in Juniors, start by making it irrelevant. That means more strict enforcement of the rules. For instance, I’d like to see all hits to the head, even incidental, penalized. Also, start handing out more unsportsmanlike conduct penalties for the trash talking.
I agree that if it’s taken out, you have to strictly enforce the rules and perhaps strengthen others. Let the referees do their job, which is to enforce rules and protect players.
You can’t rely soley on the refs to enfore the rules and protect the players. One ref and two linesman is certainly not enough eyes on the ice to protect the players. I’ve seen it numerous times where the ref is skating up ice, in position, and something happens behind him that only the players and the crowd sees. How are the refs supposed to govern that? They can’t. Let the enforcers take care of it. Once a team knows if they are taking liberties with players they will have to answer to an enforcer, it usually lessens those situations.
Here in Dubuque, there was a noticeable difference last season when the team acquired one of the toughest heavyweights in the USHL. He didn’t even fight that often, but, when he was in the lineup, his teammates were cheap-shotted less often and had more time and space to be offensively creative. Consequently, the game was more entertaining to watch. And, actually, Dubuque didn’t have a ton of fighting majors last year.
I 100% disagree with outlawing fighting in the USHL. Even with fighting allowed, a lot of extracurricular activities happen and the refs either don’t see it or don’t call it. With fighting not allowed, many of these activities may increase. Unfortunately for some, fighting and head injuries are a part of the game.
What truly needs to be focused on and eliminated are elbows to the head, checking from behind.
Think of it as a player, if you can go out on the ice and take liberties with your stick, slashing, spearing the opposing teams star player, and know you won’t have to answer to anyone (enforcers) for that, it will clearly happen more often.
Let’s focus on the cheap shots, checking from behind and get that out of the game. That in itself will eliminate a lot of the fighting. Once you start eliminating these things, the reasons for the kids fighting will decrease.
I completely agree with you that planned fights need to be outlawed. In my opinion, those fights are worthless to the game.
We can ask for harsher rules on cheap shots and dangerous hits. Steps are already being taken to limit those. However, the rule-makers saying that they care about protecting the players from the bad hits, but allowing them to get hit in the head repeatedly with nothing more than a major is almost hypocritical.
Also, do you know why we don’t see spearing very often? Automatic game misconduct. Not because they’d have to answer the bell. There are other stick penalties that carry a similar punishment.
With four officials on the ice, they are more than capable of policing the game. They’ve just never truly been allowed to for us to find out.
I say ask for harsher rules on the cheap shots and dangerous hits first. I don’t think you can put dangerous checks from behind on the same level as fighting. If you’ve never been in an actual hockey fight, you just don’t know. It’s not like fighting on the ground in shoes. I would say 80% of hockey fights end with each player landed 2-3 solid punches. A far cry from repeated blows to the head.
If players don’t want to fight, they don’t have to. If they are in fear of their brains being damaged later in life, they can skate away. No referee in his right mind is going to let a fight go on for someone whose clearly not interested. If the oppenent wants to fight, someone from the team (if there is an enforcer) will step in.
Let’s educate the players on the dangers of blows to head including elbows, checks from behind, and fighting and let’s heighten the penalties for such things.
Most of the games that are in Dubuque, have only one referee and two linesman. In those games, a lot of extra activity went uncalled. The play coming from behind is rarely watched by the referees, which results in a good chance to give a slash to the knee of the opponent.
I know it’s not the same thing, but the goal of fighting is to hit the other guy in the face, right? So ban one instance of targeting the head, but allow another?
It’s less about how many fights result in hits to the head, it’s about the intent to hit the head.
Totally agree that there has to be stronger education on the dangers of blows to the head. Absolutely a great idea and hopefully one that gets put into practice.
The USHL is on a staggered four-official system, I believe. So they have games with both three and four.
I am not saying you can not have an opinion. I am saying I find it interesting that people who are on the negative side of the fence generally have less experience overall with the game of hockey. Of course this is not always the case but more often than not it is.
With respect to the comment of a 16 year old fighting a 19 year old. This is where the unspoken rules of fighting come into effect. I have seen upwards of 200 games this season and I can not think of an instance where there was a rookie 16 year old fighting a much older player against their will. I can not even think of an instance where an older player challenged a younger player to fight. Generally when there is a 16 year old fighting anyone older than 17 it is, for the most part, initiated by the 16 year old who is trying to make a bit of a name for themselves.
The players know who is tough. They know who has fought. Who will fight. Who won’t fight. Who they don’t want to fight.
On the rare occasion over the years where a 19/20 year old does go after a 16 year old I can promise you that the whole league takes notice and that player is targeted to some extent. A great example was a number of years back I was at a game in Saskatoon and Ned Lukacevik was playing with the Swift Current Broncos. A night or two previous Lukacevik (20 years old) had really gone after a 16 year old playing for the PA Raiders. Word travels fast in hockey as everyone has played with or against each other at some point. It’s 2 nights later in Saskatoon. I can’t tell you the score of that game and I don’t know if the Blades could either because it seemed as though their focus was to run old Ned right out of the rink. It had nothing to do with retribution on one of their own players. It had to do with the code of junior hockey. It had to do with player policing.
Now a ref in Saskatoon could not give Lukacevik a penalty because of what happened a night or two before in a completely different game but the players could sure get involved and let him know that what he did was pretty unacceptable. Ned had to fight 2/3 times that night in between the shifts he was getting run through the boards. I can tell you watching Lukacevik the rest of that season that he was a little more thoughtful with the players he mixed it up with. In this particular instance if fighting was not apart of the game either Lukacevik would of continued to run around and take liberties on 16 year olds or someone would of got Ned so bad that it would/could of ended his career. All because they couldn’t drop the gloves to settle it.
You say fighting needs to be taken out of junior hockey to protect the 16 year olds. I say it needs to be kept in to protect the 16 year olds.
So this is a good example of how the players are terrible policemen. So a guy does something stupid like challenge a 16-year-old and has to fight 2-3 times in a totally different game? Great. He never fights a 16-year-old again. Lesson learned, but at what cost?
Why is it up to the teenagers to teach a guy a lesson anyway? Clearly old Ned was disrespectful of “the code,” but then payed dearly for it with getting cheap-shotted, run through the boards and multiple fights. How does this sound OK?
My support for the ban is not solely to protect 16-year-olds, though I’m not sure how fighting protects them better than no fighting.
Anyone who has ever put their 16 year old in a car knows that asking them to “police themselves” is a pointless endeavour.
I understand the logic of fighting but ever since I started following the USHL more than a decade ago I’ve wondered why it is that if USHL players are aiming for Division I hockey scholarships , the NCAA fighting rules aren’t applied. You don’t ban it but make it carry a much heavier price.
I also think we need to see bigger crack downs on head shots. I’m amazed at how many elbows to the head I see during the course of a game in the guise of “finishing checks.” And the USHL refs seem largely blind to them.
Besides, I’d support almost anything that might even slightly deter the constant yelling of “C’mon, fight” by people who don’t have a clue what’s happening on the ice..
Good article. interesting read which has sparked some thoughts based on what i’ve heard around the USHL. First, the CHL won’t eliminate fighting all together, neither will the USHL. More people attend games for the fights than those who stay away because of them…..especially in towns like Des Moines and Lincoln…..just look on twitter after a Bucs or Stars win, i routinely see comments like “Bucs win 6-3, saw 3 fights, i’m going home happy!” or “Saw 4 goals, 3 fights, awesome time, got my money’s worth!”…..you get the idea. I recently read an interview with the Lincoln Stars owner who estimated he’d lose half of his attendance if fighting was taken out of the USHL and those are the guys who will have a voice on this issue in the USHL. The CHL ended their affiliation with Hockey Canada and the USHL could easily do the same with USA Hockey without skipping a beat if USA Hockey went forward with this ban.
I agree that a teenage brain is at more risk than someone older. However, I like what the CHL did when they instituted the rule that players cannot remove their helmets before a fight. With the USHL and Scotty Brand looking to go to half-shields for all players for next season, i could see a similar rule in the USHL next year. I like this rule in junior hockey because players aren’t nearly as strong or have the balance to last on their skates to stand toe to toe in a fight for very long. I wouldn’t be surprised if more damage to the brain is caused from hitting the ice than the actual blows from a fist, especially in the USHL.
Secondly, many of these studies are somewhat skewed. When Boogaard played in the Western League, junior hockey was the wild wild west. I read that article in the Times twice and Derek was forced to fight nearly every game, sometimes twice a game, and every team had a couple of those guys. Going back, guys like Bob Probert went thought the same thing in Juniors. I don’t know of any team, whether it’s the USHL, WHL, OHL, whatever, that has any player fighting that much nowadays, there’s just a different mentality today, which is a good thing. I understand that one blow could damage your brain, but guys like ripper, belak, and boogy had years and years of trauma to their brain. I just don’t see anyone in any league exposing their brains to that much trauma these days.
Now i know and agree with you that 16-20 year olds cannot police themselves. However, the USHL and CHL are developmental leagues. They’re meant to develop players for the college ranks and beyond, where fighting is allowed. I think the respective leagues would be doing their players a disservice if fighting was banned outright. I know you mention George Parros and his time spent at Princeton, but would he be in the NHL right now if he wasn’t able to fight in the NAHL and had that fighting background or familiarity? I fully believe that guys will make it to the NHL at all costs and if fighting is a way to get there, then so be it.
I don’t agree fighting should be completely banned but tweaked in a way that can make it safer for combatants without compromising the integrity of the game. The more pressing and dangerous issues, to me, are the blind-side hits, the elbows and hands getting too high, and leaving the feet when delivering a hit. Those things, especially in junior hockey, have led to more concussions than fighting and it’s not even close.
Just my thoughts. Hope i didn’t make it personal like other commentators.
“Wow, you are really part of the generation of coddled, oversensitized, sissy Americans.” (JGman).
Hey Jgman (and the others on this site). You don’t need to have played hockey to have an opinion. Chris is a very thoughtful commentator on hockey and like everyone else he deserves to have his opinion heard.
Okay to the fighting issue.
I am an American who has played hockey from age 5 and I played in an era when Canadians gave us no respect and literally spit in our faces during games, calling us jokes. Then in 1980, we won the Gold Medal and things slowly began to get better for American players.
I have been in many fights both on and off the rink and I can tell you that there is really nothing “tough” about fighting. I did it because I could and I had a boxing background so I knew how to use my hands and balance to be effective. Now I have a son and daughter who play and honestly, I don’t want my son fighting. Just like I don’t want him boxing. I love boxing. Almost as much as hockey but now there is new information (science) proving that taking repeated hits to the head will cause brain damage so I won’t let him box. He plays hockey now and i don’t want him fighting.
Strangely, hockey permits bareknuckle fighting eventhough boxing hasn’t permitted bareknuckle punching since the 20’s. I am not sure we need to completely ban fighting from the game but perhaps allowing the players to leave their gloves on (or requiring them to) would protect the players from the worst head trauma.
And, some of the commentators say that fighting is necessary to keep players in check — which is true in some cases. We all know that there are certain dirty players who need to be taught a lesson (although effective body checking might do the trick). However, that’s not what is happening in CHL or the American Juniors.
2300 fights is not because there were 2300 dirty players in need of a lesson. Everyone knows that if you play juniors, you are expected to get in at least ONE FIGHT. It is one of the unwritten rules of Juniors. Ironically, is similar to the Gang initiation where you must suffer a beat down in order to join the gang. This is the part of the fighting, they need to change.
Enforcer versus enforcer should be the only fighting in hockey (or the occasional emotional flare-up). But 2300 fights is not enforcers only.
And, btw, from a boxing standpoint, nearly all the junior fights that I have seen are very poor and not very entertaining. It’s like watching a bar fight with two drunk guys swinging wildly.
Haha…yeah, Martin, that’s true, everyone does have the right to an opinion, but that doesn’t mean people’s opinions are sound. And, I never even said he doesn’t have the right to an opinion. People with first-hand experience of the game understand the issue soundly. Fighting in hockey is not about entertaining people. As I stated previously, there is a role for figting in hockey. And, thank you for supporting my point regarding the difficulty of landing a solid, trauma-inducing blow to for opponent. It takes a ton of force to cause brain trauma, and an off-balance punch in a hockey fight will not cause it. My guess is that Mr. Peters played hockey at some point. My second guess is that he has never been in a hockey fight.
You are correct in your guesses that I played hockey and have never been in a hockey fight. I never played at a level that allowed it. What does concern me, however, is your lack of understanding of head trauma. It does not, in fact, require “a ton of force” to cause brain trauma. There are, of course, varying degrees of severity, but no trauma is good trauma for anyone with a brain, especially on teenagers as their brains are still developing.
I respect that you have an opinion opposite of mine, but I would encourage you to educate yourself on the position opposite from yours. It probably won’t change your position, but would allow you to present a more researched argument. Too often people will take sides without considering all the facts, which is unfortunately ignorant. Thanks for reading and commenting.
Interesting quotes from some officials with the Sioux Falls Stampede (USHL). Quote from the article is below the link.
Officials with USA Hockey want to make those fights more rare, but the proposal is being met with resistance.
“It was unanimous that every team in the league felt that we don’t need to stop it,” CEO of the Sioux Falls Stampede Gary Weckwerth said.
Hartzell says fighting is a way for players to police themselves against dirty hits on the ice.
“We’re fighting the wrong thing. The fights are not the problem,” Hartzell said.
Without fighting, Hartzell says there will be more dangerous hits.
“When Freddie on the other team, each time you play him, acts like an idiot, know how you get at him? You rip him through the wall. That’s dangerous. That’s what scares me,” Hartzell said.
“The hits that you see on the ice and the hits to the head cause more concussions than a fight does. We’ve had less than one percent of our concussions in the league last year were the result of a fight,” Weckwerth said.
Thanks for sharing that.
Again, there is far too much focus on the word “concussion.” The idea behind eliminating fighting is to get rid of the repeated contact to the head that comes with it.
I’ll side with Mike Stuart, chief medical officer of USA Hockey with three sons in pro hockey, who has often said you’re talking about making stiffer penalties for checks to the head, you have to include fighting. Otherwise it’s just lip service about real concern for the brains of teenage players.
Hartzell’s comments kind of miss the point. Political correctness is not the problem. The problem is the mounting scientific evidence that the teenage brain is ill-equipped to sustain repeated trauma.
Until a doctor comes out with research that says a teenager’s brain can handle repeated trauma, whether he receives a concussion or not, I don’t see any way I’d change my position on this one.
Thank you for sharing the link, though! Good to have both sides of the debate.
Good article Chris. I won’t rehash some of the responses above but here are my comments in no particular order.
I’ve been watching and playing hockey for almost 50 years and as long as fighting has been in the league there has been stick swinging, spearing, slashing, slew foots and finishing your check with an elbow. There has never been a period in the league’s history when those infractions were suddenly controlled by fighters, even today. And how exactly does this policing work when the majority of fights are between the designated goons? It’s a myth and based on a culture that grew out of team responses to Shero’s team in the early 70’s and continues to be tolerated by officials in junior hockey and NHL executives. My blog has statistics from the past 12 NHL seasons that show when fighting is reduced, non-fighting penalties are also reduced. When teams fight more often they also generate more non-fighting related penalties. It’s the opposite of what people “think” is happening.
Fights are about revenge and retribution. Listen to any enforcer interview and the majority will talk about pay back for a hit that may have happened last week or last season. Institute tougher rules and give the refs more power and let them be the enforcers. Players who police the game do so without regard for the rule book and with too much emotion and bias. Eventually you end up with an ugly incident like Bertuzzi and Moore. Although that might seem extreme, its only a small step from trying to pick a fight to an enraged player who won’t take no for an answer.
As for preparing juniors for the NHL, why put a large group of teenagers at risk right now for the extremely slight chance that they might get drafted and then possibly make it to the NHL. And George Parros seems to be doing OK as a fighter in the NHL, and he played his junior hockey in the NCAA where fighting incurs a game misconduct.
you guysare ridiculous more peopole get hurt from hits than people do form fights.
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