Back in early June USA Hockey held its Annual Congress, a four day meeting of the powers that be at the helm of amateur hockey in the United States. One of the major focuses of the Annual Congress was player safety in light of the recent concussion related lawsuits in the NHL and NFL along with mounting medical research showing the lasting effects of repeated concussions. “We’re focused on ensuring the safest possible environment and providing a development program that helps players of all ability levels reach their full potential,” said Ron DeGregorio, president of USA Hockey. “That focus was very evident during our Annual Congress.”
During that meeting the Junior Council adopted new rules pertaining to fighting at the Tier I USHL and Tier II NAHL levels. The new June 2014 Revision of the Official Rules of Ice Hockey – Junior Hockey Edition now reads as follows;
FOR JUNIOR TIER I & JUNIOR TIER II
a) A major penalty plus a misconduct penalty shall be assessed to any player who engages in fighting. A minor, double minor or major penalty plus a misconduct penalty, at the discretion of the Referee, shall be assessed to any player who, having been struck, continues the altercation by retaliating.
The result of the new rule is that anyone fighting will sit in the penalty box for a minimum of 15 minutes.
“Our efforts in player safety include a concerted focus on eliminating dangerous behavior in junior hockey,” said John Vanbiesbrouck, vice president of USA Hockey, chair of the Junior Council and Hockey Hall of Famer.
Critics of fighting at the Junior level point to several recent studies showing that the lingering and long term effects of head injuries, especially on young developing brains. Late last year The New York Times reported on a Mayo Clinic Conference on Concussions in Hockey. Research presented at the conference may have provided the final impetus the Junior Council needed to pass the rules changes.
The conference was organized by Aynsley Smith a Mayo Clinic sports psychologist. “My concern is we can’t wait for the data that tell us all the neurons that died with each head impact before we stop unnecessary fighting,” said Smith. “We need to take action now.” A recent study out of the University of Ottawa looked at the types of hits that often result in concussions among hockey players. They used a helmet equipped with multiple sensors to measure the force from a head-on check, a fall to the ice and a left or right hook which would be thrown in a fight. Results showed that the left or right hook was far more likely to cause a concussion because of the rotational forces applied to the brain.
“Boxers and fighters in hockey know that the way to knock someone out is to catch him with a hook, and down he goes,” said Blaine Hoshizaki, director of research at the university’s Neurotrauma Impact Science Laboratory. “We found that the hook delivered more than twice the rotational acceleration than anything else. It’s the most effective way to give someone a concussion.”
New rules on fighting are not just going to effect play in the United States. In Canada, where hockey is sacrosanct, the Canadian Junior Hockey League has voted to implement a “One-Fight Rule”. The rule calls for a five minute major penalty and an immediate ejection of the player from the game for fighting. The CJHL consists of 10 leagues across the country and dipping into the northern United States. Five of the leagues are already using the “One-Fight Rule” and the other five will adopt the rule for the 2015-16 season.
Bring up the issue of fighting in hockey with a group of fans and you are likely to get about as many different opinions as there are fans in the room. There are those who point to the NCAA and International Hockey Federation where fighting is banned and strictly enforced. There are still others who will say that fighting is not only part of the game, but is essential to preventing even more egregious behavior by some on the ice.
That second opinion was the basis of a December 19, 2013 Denver Post article by Mike Chambers. Chamber’s contention is that eliminating fighting would turn the game into a full blown gladiator sport.
“Automatic ejections for fighting in the U.S. junior-A leagues is a bad idea. First and foremost, I believe it will lead to more injuries, more frustration, more cheap shots, more on-ice mayhem — and generally LESS RESPONSIBLE hockey players,” said Chambers. He goes on to discuss the NCAA teams that fighting opponents hold up as an example of successfully banning fighting. “I’ve been covering college hockey since 1995 and absolutely hate the full face cages and severe punishment for fighting. It promotes cheap shots, gladiators on ice. Scores aren’t settled, they escalate because there is no outlet. Checking-from-behind, boarding, elbowing and two-handed chops are so frequent because players feel invincible with the facial protection, and know they won’t have to answer the bell and fight.”
Chambers quotes Angelo Ricci, director/coach of the Colorado Thunderbirds Tier III hockey program in support of his position. “The ability to calm the waters during a game definitely is a deterrent for the cheap shots and maybe from a player taking runs at some of the elite players on a team,” states Ricci. “Yes, there are rules and penalties but there is nothing like knowing that if you run around the rink without purpose or give a cheap shot that you may have to answer to a tough guy. It certainly allows the game to police itself.”
If the junior leagues would employ the two referee system as they do in the NHL and the penalties were called consistently much of the “policing” aspect referred to by fighting proponents could be taken care of by the referees. However, the Tier I and Tier II Junior Leagues are developmental leagues for not only the players but the on ice officials as well. While referees and linesmen do a decent job, they are learning and honing their craft. They can not see everything on the ice and sometimes let games get out of hand, that is where the players policing themselves comes into play.
I am on the fence with this one. Player’s health and safety should be placed at the top of the list of concerns. I absolutely am for ridding the game of the prearranged or staged fights. Nobody wants to see a kid helped off the ice due to a injury suffered during a fight. However, I am also concerned about the stick work or amped up checks along the boards by those players who feel they are now protected from retribution by the new fighting rules. There is also the aspect of the fourth liner who will instigate a fight with the leading scorer on the opposing team forcing him to defend himself. That fourth liner who gets a couple of shifts a night just helped his team tremendously by putting the other team’s top player in the box for 15 minutes and endeared himself to his coach and teammates.
I invite your comments below, lets just try and keep it a civil discussion.