The Quebec Major Junior Hockey League has toughened up its sanctions on brawling.
That’s the good news.
But the good gentlemen who run the league have decided to leave fighting in the game.
That’s like an explosive store that sells gunpowder and wicks but, for safety reasons, no matches. Odds are if you are allowed to stock the first two components, someone will supply the third.
The Q, you might remember, suffered a public relations black eye after a scrap that featured Jonathan Roy, best known as the son of NHL Hall of Famer Patrick Roy pummeling Chicoutimi goalie Bobby Nadeau who refused to fight him. The younger Roy is looking at assault charges and Quebec’s minister of sport asked the Quebec League to consider sanctions that would rid the game of fighting.
The Q, like every other league, including the NHL, clucks its hands when a teenage boy bloodies his hands on another so spectacularly it ends up on YouTube. But in Chicoutimi, Quebec City, Windsor and, not too long ago Rome, violence, the kind that gets you arrested outside the arena walls, is part of the entertainment package.
The story touches down on an interesting day. The Chicago Blackhawks announced their signing of Akim Aliu. If you remember that name, it’s because Aliu, as a rookie member of the Windsor Spitfires, also had a role in a famous fight in 2005.
Three weeks after refusing to be put in the ‘hotbox,’ the bathroom of the bus where rookies are crushed together as a form of initiation, Aliu was jumped by Steve Downie, the team’s captain at practice. Aliu lost three teeth. As the cameras rolled, Aliu returned to the ice and pounded Downie whose list of cheap shots as a Philadelphia Flyer would include a sucker punch on the Leafs Jason Blake and a hit on the Senators’ Dean McAmmond so savage it drew a 20-game suspension.
Akim Aliu thus became the victor, if not the protagonist, in one of the most important fights in hockey.
His fight, captured by news cameras, changed the game. The OHL suspended Downie for a pittance, just five games, but the sanctions against the Spitfires were severe. Coach Mo Mantha even lost his job. Unfair or not, that is a major inducement for a coach to mind what is going on in the back of the bus.
That is fighting the good fight. But that all the rest of them were any good at all.
While allowing the perpetuation of fighting, leagues, all of them, continue to make room for players who have no longer have a place in the game. There is no such thing as a good fight.
“Ever see someone leave the rink during a scrap?” fighting apologists like to say.
“Ever seen the scores who won’t come to the rink because of fighting?” is the answer.
“Ever seen the parents from other countries who view the carnage on Saturday night and forbid their kids to play?”
It’s simple enough. Allow the gunpowder, allow the wick, don’t be surprised when it goes boom. Penalize fighting with a 10-minute penalty, almost always incurred simultaneously by both teams, and you give credence to a code that morphs into attacks.
Meanwhile, in Calgary, another player involved in another famous incident was talking to the media on behalf of his new team. Todd Bertuzzi said he was just looking for a fresh start.