The New York Times reports that both organizations are considering rules that would end fighting in nonprofessional leagues as soon as next season.
USA Hockey and Hockey Canada are not waiting around for the National Hockey League to change its rules on fighting. |
“The appetite is there,” David Branch, president of the Canadian Hockey League, told the newspaper, citing the prevalence of concussions as a major catalyst for the movement. “The time is certainly right to move forward. One of the causes of concussions is fighting. And I believe that there is more and more recognition that our game does not need fighting to survive — to be part of the entertainment package, you might say — because of the concerns of injuries and other concerns that could very well be a byproduct of fighting.”
The rule changes would apply to dozens of leagues, and leaders of the sport's umbrella organizations believe rules to knock out fighting "will be significantly stiffened during organization-wide meetings this summer."
“The official stance from Hockey Canada is that we want to get rid of fighting as quickly as we can,” Bob Nicholson, the organization’s chief executive, told reporter John Branch. His organization oversees more than a half-million amateur adult and youth players.
In the United States, USA Hockey’s Junior Council discussed emergency legislation that would combat fighting with much harsher penalties, starting as early as next fall. According to the Times, the council may propose a system like that used in the NCAA, where fights are rare — mostly likely because players are immediately ejected for fighting, and progressive suspensions are doled out for subsequent brawls. “We’re an amateur sports organization that is concerned most about the safety of our members and marketing our sport,” said Dave Ogrean, USA Hockey’s executive director. “If our penalties for fighting were more onerous, that would serve both those purposes very well.”
But the question remains: Will hockey survive without fighting? The act of players punching each other has become so ingrained in much of the Canadian hockey culture that eradicating fights completely could prove difficult. Ogrean, however, disagrees: “That’s been a fallacious argument for a long, long, long time," he said.
Nevertheless, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman last fall said the league’s healthy attendance figures suggest that fans do not want fighting banned, and he's questioned the science linking hockey fights to brain damage.
News of the proposed changes at the amateur level came six weeks after the Minnesota State High School League implemented automatic five-minute major penalties for checking from behind, boarding and making contact to the head after Jack Jablonski, a sophomore for Benilde-St. Margaret's, was paralyzed after being checked from behind in a junior-varsity game on Dec. 30. The move subsequently put more pressure on high school game referees to make the correct call. Jim Kirshbaum, assignment secretary for the Suburban Referees Association in the Twin Cities, told the Minneapolis Star Tribune several referees questioned their responsibility to enforce the state's tougher stance on violent hits, stating that one referee called "four or five" major penalties in a game shortly after the rule changes were implemented, because he "felt like he had to call everything close."
"Some referees think because the high school league is cracking down they need to call more major penalties," Kirshbaum said. "We've stressed it to our membership that this doesn't change what's called, and that's how it should be approached."
In 2010, a study on head injuries in Canadian junior ice hockey that appeared in the November 2010 issue of Neurosurgical Focus revealed that 17 players suffered a total of 21 concussions during 52 physician-observed games. By comparison, an average of 75 concussions are reported each season in the NHL over 82 regular-season games.
That study was published less than two weeks after a group of more than
250 doctors, researchers and officials called on hockey organizations —
from youth groups on up to the NHL — to ban hits to the head.