Last week the Ontario Hockey League instituted an innovative rule to curb fighting. OHL Commissioner, David Branch announced that frequent fighters, those who engage in 10 or more fights will face extra discipline. For each fight up to 15 the player will receive an automatic 2 game suspension. For fights 16 and beyond the player continues to receive the 2 additional game suspension and his team is fined $1000. The league also has the power to administer additional punishment.
At the press conference announcing the new rule Commissioner Branch noted that over the last five years, 92% of the leagues players have been involved in less than 10 fights.
However there were 25 players last season that had 11 or more scraps. Four players had 15 fights and the leader of the pack was the Windsor Spitfires, Ty Bilcke who had an amazing 37 bouts.
David Branch has been very proactive trying to make his league safer and protect his players. They were the first in Canada to implement a zero tolerance policy for head shots. The OHL and particularly Commissioner Branch received both praise and criticism for that policy.
Branch’s new fighting rule has generated even more passionate debate. Some debate the old and tired clichés of how the game will slide into a stick wielding cheap shot affair.
The truth is nobody knows this to be true because there isn’t a league that has tried to eliminate or curb fighting. We don’t know how the game will be played if fighting is eliminated or at least minimized.
Some critics are examining some of the “what ifs” of the rule. What if a player is up against the 10 game limit and is goaded into a fight?
The league insists the instigator rule will save the player from additional discipline. You see if a player is not the instigator of a fight it will not count on his record. The critics rightly suggest that the referees have not always been accurate on calling the instigator properly.
There is the suggestion that this rule won’t curb fighting at all, instead it will just spread the fights around. No more one dimensional nuclear deterrent sitting on the bench, instead it will force the skilled top players to drop the gloves as well. I’m not sure that is a valid argument or even a bad idea.
Commissioner Branch argues that the rule is not an attempt to ban fighting. The OHL Commissioner insists it is a move to eliminate needless fights.
Earlier I noted Ty Bilcke from the Windsor Spitfires led the OHL last season with 37 fights. If anyone would be against the new rule it would this young man right? Well not so fast.
The tough forward is standing up for the league’s new rule and praises the move to protect the players.
In an interview Bilcke stated: “David Branch’s purpose is to protect the players...It will protect the players and bring more skill to the league.”
The young man also views the new rule as an opportunity for his game.
“I’m actually excited about it. It’s a challenge for me to show people who have been calling me words like goon, that I’m a hockey player first.”
The fighting issue has always generated heated debate. Many of the pro-fighting crowd insists that fighting is an integral part of the game. It keeps the game safer by letting the players police themselves. I’ve never thought that 16 to 20 year old kids punching each other in the face was a smart way to keep hockey safer.
The anti-fighting crowd (usually the media) views the game as barbaric and all the players’ meatheads. I don’t mind a good scrap for the right reasons and forgive me for being a hypocrite.
If a player is on the bad end of a cheap shot or is consistently targeted by the opposition, (think Logan Couture last season in Minnesota), a fight can send the message that cools down the faux toughness from the other side.
However, the staged fight, the needless scrap that has turned many players into one dimensional tough guy who spend 57 minutes on the bench and do nothing but fight is not good for the game or the player.
In the last number couple of years we have heard from many former players who were known more for throwing fists than scoring goals. They have explained that merely the anticipation of fighting turned them into nervous wrecks. They felt obligated, even forced, into a role that they couldn’t avoid.
Nobody has ever gone to the rink dreaming about the fight they are going to have. We all dream of scoring the big goal and making the big play to help our team win.
A rule that helps curb fighting and opens up an opportunity for young men like Ty Bilcke to be more than just a goon should be welcomed by anyone that loves hockey and the terrific young men who play.