Recently on Twitter I struck up a conversation with Jeff LoVecchio (definitely give @JeffLoVecchio with The Hockey Think Tank a follow) about a tilt in the WHL and if fighting has a place in junior hockey. As you’ll see in the video, there’s nothing but good old fist-smashing-face action.
It starts off with Kamloops Jeff Faith stepping up and crushing Tanner Sidaway of the Victoria Royals due to Sidaway being given a suicide pass. Royals forward Sean Gulka wasn’t having any of that and like a good teammate goes over and challenges Faith to a fight. To Faith’s credit he doesn’t back away from the challenge and both guys drop the gloves and just beat the snot out of each other. After losing their stamina, they guys come together where the refs go split them up, and the gents give each other the old “nice job” tap on the head before heading to their respective boxes of shame for 5 minutes.
10 years ago, I would have thought it was awesome and saw nothing wrong with it. Now, at almost 30 years old and seeing the recent information and research on CTE, I’m really hesitant on the entire front, especially seeing them undoing their chin straps (but what about their hands?!?!?!).
Let me preface this by saying that I’ve never been in a hockey fight outside of some stupid men’s league scraps and the occasional fight in a practice, which was more me punch a guy with a cage and he swings back. I will fully admit that so you can sit down and not chirp me with your “but you never played at a high level or understand the reasons for fighting” rhetoric because trust me, I used read up on and love every single part of “the code” (and still do).
That said, as a coach, it’s tough for me at times to watch guys or teenagers in juniors drop the mitts and have a go.
I absolutely enjoy watching organic fights happen in the professional hockey arena, especially rivalries or sticking up for teammates (call me a Neanderthal, I’ve been called worse by better people).
But those are two consenting adults, dropping the gloves and trying to play whack a mole with the other guys face. They can’t say they don’t know what concussions or CTE are anymore, yet they still go to battle and are willing combatants.
Teenagers in juniors though (yes, I’m educated enough to know that 18-20 year old’s are not kids, but their still young enough) are completely different, because very few will reach a pro level, and today's game isn’t like it was in the 80’s and 90’s where each team carried 1-2 goons on their roster, you had to be over 6 feet tall and eat rusty nails for breakfast. Today’s game is much more skill based and its going to continue to head in that direction.
That said it's not like nothing is being done by junior hockey governing bodies, USA hockey has implemented at the Tier 1 and Tier 2 level an additional 10 minute misconduct penalty for any player given a fighting major. In Tier 3 a player is given an automatic game ejection with a fighting major (why they don’t just make it all the same is beyond me).
In the CHL its different across the board. The WHL goes by the NHL rules and just gives each player 5 minutes for fighting. The OHL is the same, except a player is only allowed 10 fighting majors a season. If they go over that, they receive a 3 game suspension, and then additional games tacked on for each individual fight. The QMJHL is a 5 game suspension after 10 fights in a season.
So, it seems these leagues are starting to head in the right direction of trying to eliminate fighting, but it still happens, and it will continue to happen until leagues just out right suspend players for the season if they engage in a tilt.
Look, in US junior hockey, these players are working towards a NCAA scholarship. College hockey in the event of a fight gives a major and game misconduct, which results in a suspension for the next game. Being suspended for a game, especially if you are one of the top players on the team is not good.
Do I want to see junior players getting injured? Absolutely not. Do I like seeing guys standing up for themselves and their teammates? Yes. Is it worth potential long term effects on your health? No. Will it continue to happen in the game? Yes. Do I know that in reality it’s just bad and dangerous? Yes. Can they be entertaining? Yes, and this is where I'm stuck.
At the end of the day though, I’m like the guy who slowly drives by a car crash knowing its bad. Do I need to look and see the wreck? No, but will I? Yes, but is it really necessary?
Let me know what you think on twitter @TDC_Hockey and @JRHockeyPodcast