If we put one of our kids in a situation where they just don't know how to hold or how to survive, we get a kid with a concussion or a broken jaw or a broken orbital bone. - Bob Hartley
VANCOUVER, BC -- Last year, former Calgary Flames winger Lee Stempniak laid a big hit on Edmonton Oilers captain Andrew Ference, sending the scrappy defender to the ice in a heap.
The hit was clean and wouldn't have warranted any call from the officials but Ference took exception to the check and went in flying at Stempniak.
Far from a fighter, Stempniak looked more than a little lost in the altercation.
"The next morning, Stempniak came to me and he said, 'I had no clue what to do.' He had a face like a baseball," head coach Bob Hartley said.
The Stempniak altercation is an an example of why Hartley brought an instructor to a recent practice showing players how to protect themselves in different scenarios.
"We didn't teach them to fight. We taught them, if they get caught in a scrum, if they get jumped, or if they deliver a big bodycheck, which is legal ... sometimes a good bodycheck will create a confrontation.
"If we put one of our kids in a situation where they just don't know how to hold or how to survive, we get a kid with a concussion or a broken jaw or a broken orbital bone."
The tactic isn't new and Hartley doesn't believe he's the only coach who gives lessons in self-defence. Last year, the team employed the same drills in training camp.
"It's a tough game. I understand it's a sensitive subject because many people want fighting banned.
"If you read the rulebook again this year, it's still in it. You're allowed to fight. You get five minutes. Until it's in [the rulebook], it's our job as an organization, as a coaching staff, to try to protect our assets."
Bryce Van Brabant is a player who appreciates the lessons he has received in recent days.
Prior to spending three years at Quinnipiac, he played in the AJHL with the Spruce Grove Saints. During his junior career, he did fight a bit but those scraps didn't require much technique and were more about brute strength.
"In juniors, we just kind of slugged it out," he explained. "At the pro level, it's definitely new to me. It's a nice brush-up [for] getting re-introduced to it.
"If you're slugging it out, you're putting yourself out there for more injuries."
While he knows some of his charges will get into fights, Hartley was adamant these lessons are not about molding players into heavyweights.
"We're not promoting fighting," he stated. "If they get jumped, they know what do in order to wait for the referees to come in and limit damage."
In addition to having an instructor teach them about self-defence, players can also call upon some of the veterans in the locker room.
Brian McGrattan is more than happy to dish out advice to players looking to better protect themselves on the ice. He knows how nerve-wracking it can be, particularly as a younger player, and wants to provide guidance.
"They don't have to hesitate to ask me."