CAMBRIDGE, Ont. - The Ontario Hockey Association is taking a tough stance on fighting following the death of a player last month.
The OHA set forth a set of recommendations Thursday designed at punishing players who remove their helmets during a fight.
The rule changes, which will come into effect for the 2009-10 season, will also target players who get into fights repeatedly, offering longer suspensions for each offence.
The recommendations were made nearly seven weeks after Don Sanderson, a 21-year-old senior triple-A hockey player, lapsed into a coma after hitting his head on the ice and died from his injuries.
Sanderson, who played for the Whitby Dunlops, fought Corey Fulton of the Brantford Blast in the third period of a game on Dec. 12. Sanderson's helmet came loose during the fight and hit his head as he fell to the ice, suffering major trauma.
Sanderson died Jan. 2 in a Hamilton hospital.
His death rekindled the debate over fighting in hockey and, while the OHA isn't removing it altogether, the organization is hoping to prevent similar accidents from happening in the future.
Beginning next season, a player removing his helmet or undoing his chin strap during a fight will be given a gross misconduct penalty and an automatic one-game suspension. The player will be dealt the same penalty if he attempts to take off his opponent's helmet.
Officials have also been instructed to be "more vigilant" in stopping fights.
The OHA will also work with helmet manufacturers and the Canadian Standards Association to determine whether the current fastening systems for helmets can be improved.
Players who drops the gloves regularly have also been targeted.
In addition to receiving an automatic game misconduct for fighting - a policy that was already in place - players who engage in three fights in a season will be given a one-game ban. A fourth fight will result in a two-game suspension, while a fifth fight will lead to a three-game ban.
A sixth fighting major will result in an indefinite suspension.
The OHA also plans to meet with selected players in March to discuss the league's new policies.