The Quebec Major Junior Hockey League has announced rule changes to curb fighting, in hopes of putting the Jonathan Roy incident (above) behind it. They’ve done very well.
The new rules are aimed at curbing what Q-league honcho Gilles Courteau describes as “gratuitous violence.” You can find the amendments on the Q’s site, but here’s the Coles Notes version. The league will issue severe automatic suspensions to players who: instigate fights (up to 15 games); fight twice in the same stoppage (five games); fight during the pregame warm-up (10 games); or fight a goaltender (five games). Goalies who are aggressors in fights will now face automatic 10-game suspensions. Also, the league will hand out fines ranging from $500 to $5,000 for coaches who are involved in, or engage in altercations.
In other words, cut out the idiocy.
Some harboured the illusion the Q would outright ban fighting—or maybe introduce an automatic ejection. That just wasn’t in the cards. An automatic ejection would amount to an effective ban, as even tough players come to the rink to play, and no sane coach would want players leaving a hole on the bench night in and night out. And you have to bear in mind that the Q and its sister leagues in the West and Ontario are feeder leagues for the NHL. While junior leagues can act as petri dishes for rule changes, until the NHL bans fighting, you can hardly tell players preparing for the pro game—especially rugged role players—they must enter it without ever having dropped the gloves.
Nor can one league in the major junior family ban fighting unilaterally. Teams from the three major junior leagues play each other every year in prospect games and the Memorial Cup. Whose rules would apply? The host’s? Wouldn’t the Quebec players—inexperienced at fighting and potentially intimidated—be at a disadvantage? Wouldn’t they be in outright danger?
The day may come when fighting gets you kicked out of the game in top-level junior hockey. But Courteau et al were in no position to make this move on their own. So they deserve credit for going as far as they could. If, as the Don Cherry crowd insists, fighting is part of the game, the rules should ensure it arises from the game, not as part of some ridiculous sideshow like the one the Roys engaged in. It says here the other junior leagues will follow.