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QMJHL beefs up fighting penalties, but stops short of banning fights

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The Quebec Major Junior Hockey League will crack down on on-ice violence this season, but stopped short of banning fighting altogether.

Commissioner Gilles Courteau announced Wednesday in Montreal more severe suspensions and penalties for fighting during the 2008-09 campaign.

The league struck a committee in May to examine the issue, following an attack by Quebec Remparts goaltender Jonathan Roy on Chicoutimi Sagueneens netminder Bobby Nadeau during a playoff game March 22.

The committee made 31 recommendations, none of which called for the abolition of fighting, and the QMJHL owners studied them earlier this week.

The 40th QMJHL season opens Thursday with the defending champion Gatineau Olympiques hosting Victoriaville.

Among the beefed-up fighting penalties: a player who is an aggressor in a fight can be suspended up to 15 games at the discretion of the league's disciplinary committee; a player fighting a second time during the same pause in a game gets an automatic five-game suspension; players who instigate fights during pre-game warmup receive 10-game suspensions; a player fighting a goaltender will serve a five-game suspension; a goaltender who is considered an aggressor in fighting another goaltender will receive a 10-game suspension.

Courteau defines an aggressor as a player who attacks another player who doesn't want to fight, while an instigator is someone who initiates a fight with another who is willing to engage him.

The coach's role in his players' infractions will be considered by the disciplinary committee and the coach may be suspended as well.

Organizations will be fined between $500 and $5,000 when a player or coach is suspended.

"Our league will become the strictest and most rigorous in terms of preventing and sanctioning gratuitous violence in junior hockey," Courteau said.

"In the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, we will have a zero tolerance policy in regards to gratuitous violence. I am convinced that these sanctions will be so dissuasive that we will witness marked improvements."

The incident involving Roy, son of Hockey Hall of Famer and Remparts coach Patrick Roy, and Nadeau was shown widely on television, gained YouTube fame and prompted Quebec politicians to call for change.

After he was restrained briefly by an official, Jonathan Roy skated to the Chicoutimi goal, pulled off Nadeau's mask and threw several punches even when the Sagueneens goalie was lying on the ice.

Roy then skated away, gesturing with his middle finger on each hand to Chicoutimi fans, before fighting another player. Roy was assessed two fighting majors, a minor and two game misconduct penalties.

The league slapped him with a seven-game suspension and suspended his father for five.

Jonathan Roy, 19, has also been charged with one count of assault and is scheduled to appear in court next week. He could be fined up to $2,000 with six months in prison.

In the aftermath of the incident, Quebec Sports Minister Michelle Courchesne got involved by saying she would speak to her provincial counterparts about banning fighting in hockey. Premier Jean Charest said "the time has come to put an end to fighting in junior hockey."

The QMJHL committee struck to study the issue included league personnel, provincial justice officials, former players Eric Desjardins and Enrico Ciccone, Shawinigan Cataractes owner Mario Clermont, media and former Canadian women's team hockey coach Danielle Sauvageau.

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