Breaking News: Fighting Down In Junior Hockey is not an attention-grabbing headline anymore. The new Ontario Hockey League rule that suspends any player for accruing more than 10 fighting majors has already had a significant effect on the number of scraps in the league.
Game-length data is also recorded, and I bet if I tallied up the contests, the pace of games would be much quicker. But this post isn't about editorializing the merits of fighting restrictions, it's about how, not just in the OHL, but all across the Canadian Hockey League fewer junior players are throwing down their gloves.
In fact, fighting is down 14 per cent this season. It's so low that even the New York Times has written about it. Last year's fighting leader in Ty Bilcke was the focal point of the story, the reformed goon who wants to prove he can play:
This season, Bilcke said he welcomed the chance to prove he could play instead of fight. In the recent game against Barrie, he scored his first goal of the season, helping the Spitfires earn a point in a 6-5 overtime loss.
"I told you I was working on my skills," he said, smiling after the game. He also had 1 assist and 44 penalty minutes in his first 25 games.
Bilcke said he still viewed himself as a big brother, looking out for his teammates. But had he refrained from fighting on occasion because of the fight limit?
"Not really," he said. "Some people think that fighting is the first thing on my mind just because of my numbers. That's not true at all. My main goal is to play for my team. And if something happens, then it happens." (The New York Times)
Bilcke will probably face a suspension this year. He's already at six scraps and we're just less than halfway through the regular season. However, he's picking his spots more. He picked up a fighting major more than once every two games this season, but this season he's averaged just one major every four games, or 13 periods of hockey. He continues to be the league leader, but not by very much. It's shown that more people can do what Bilcke does, since his fight rate has dropped twice as much as the league as a whole.
When I last looked at fight totals after the first weekend of the season, I noted how there were more fights in the first weekend than the rest of the season over recent history. Totals through Grey Cup weekend is a good barometer for the rest of the season (over the last two years, the OHL had just as many fights per game through November as it did for the full regular season, so I took the liberty of using past full seasons of data against the end of November, mostly because it's easier to compile).
The Western Hockey League brought in an ambiguous new rule against "staged fighting" and it appears to have had somewhat of an effect on the game. Scraps are below a rate of one per game for the first time since 2007. The Western Conference-leading Kamloops Blazers chalk in at a league low of just 12 fights through 28 games.
Over in Québec, they're going at a rate of two fights every three games, or 0.75 per game, a modest 5% drop from the last season. They're the only league to have not tweaked its fighting rules over the course of the season. The Québec Remparts have fought just six times all season, or as many as Bilcke.
Here's the full chart, with the last five years of data. This is compiled from the indispensable HockeyFights.net:
Change from 2012