USA Hockey proposes fighting ban, but does it go far enough?

In October, hockey fighting suffered a major blow: The Canadian Junior Hockey League approved the “one fight rule” to curb pugilism. Fighters would get a 5-minute major for fighting, but also a game misconduct.

The pushback was as expected: Concerns that the removal of an enforcer from a game after one fight would open other players up to cheap shots from opponents without retribution. But actual player safety concerns trumped potential ones, and the ban was approved.

Junior hockey league see, junior hockey do, so USA Hockey will consider a new rule that would “ban” fighting from Junior A leagues (16-20-year-old players) like the United States Hockey League and North American Hockey League.

From Jeff Klein at the New York Times:

The new rule would punish all fighters with automatic ejection from the game, and instigators with an automatic two-game suspension. It would also give referees more latitude in making decisions to eject players.

… The increased penalties for fighting in the measure before USA Hockey include several provisions. A goalie who crosses the center red line during a fight would be classed as an instigator, resulting in an automatic two-game suspension. Players would be given match penalties, carrying multiple-game suspensions, “in every instance when the aggressor is attempting to inflict punishment or injury to the opponent.” A player who removes his helmet to fight would also get an automatic two-game suspension, and if he removes his opponent’s helmet he would get an automatic multiple-game ban.

Part of the motivation for this proposal? USHL defenseman Dylan Chanter suffering a seizure in a fight in October, in a scary scene.

The term “fighting ban” is all over that NY Times story; and while that’s materially accurate, can we consider going from five minutes to a game misconduct a true fighting “ban”?

One NHL fighter believes so, via Cam Charron’s bit on the USA Hockey proposal from Yahoo’s junior blog, Buzzing The Net:

Paul Bissonnette, the enforcer for the Phoenix Coyotes, is on pace for a both a career-low in fights and a career-high in points. He's talked with his head coach Dave Tippett about changing his role and told the National Post's Sean Fitz-Gerald on Wednesday that “I think it will end up going down to, if you fight once, you’re out of the game. And if it comes to that, there’s really no point in having a guy in the lineup that’s just going to fight once and be out."

So BizNasty sees the one-and-done rule as the death of the enforcer, but it’s hardly going to be the death of fighting at any level. Emotions will surge, fights will happen.

What it's meant to be is another obstacle placed in front of potential fights. Like the instigator. Like the helmet rule. Like rules that determine when a fight can occur.

It’s no secret that I’m a pro-fighting guy, but I’m also someone that anticipates it’ll leave the game organically over time. Reducing fights at lower levels speaks to the idea that you’re attacking the problem at its roots: If the feeder programs don’t fight, then those players likely won’t fight as they advance to the higher pro leagues like the NHL.

When I hear “fighting ban,” I think of something with a little more teeth than what the junior leagues are doing; for example, an automatic one-game suspension on top of the game misconduct would be much more impactful. It’s what the NCAA has for hockey. Guess what the NCAA doesn’t have much of?

But I’m relieved we haven’t gone there yet, despite all the player health factors that might make it necessity. The Game will find a way to ease fighting out of the spotlight, and these leagues are smartly giving that momentum a push instead of shoving fighting off the cliff.