MONTREAL – The death of a young amateur player in Ontario after an on-ice fight was a shock, but it hasn’t changed NHL players’ support for dropping the gloves during games.
The NHL and the NHL Players Association are looking at how they can make fighting safer, but there appears to be little support for banning it from the sport.
“That’s such a sad situation, you feel for his family, but at the same time, fighting is a unique part of our sport,” Phoenix Coyotes captain Shane Doan said Friday, referring to the recent death of 21-year-old Don Sanderson in a senior league game.
“There have been tragic accidents in other areas of our sport as well. I understand they’re trying to do everything they can to make things safe, but at the same time, we realize that it’s a physical sport and there are parts of the game they can’t control.”
After Sanderson’s death, NHL vice-president Colin Campbell said the league would put fighting under the microscope to see what changes can be made. He does not support a ban on fighting, but is open to new ideas on the topic.
It is to be discussed at a meeting of league general managers in March.
And former goaltender Glenn Healy, an executive with the NHLPA, said both sides are looking at what can be done about fighting through the NHL competition committee.
“We’ve had 15 things we’ve talked about with regards to fighting,” Healy said as players and team personnel gathered for all-star weekend in Montreal.
Many of them involve building better helmets and chin-straps to help the head pieces stay on. Sanderson died after his helmet came off during a skirmish and his head hit the ice. The Ontario Hockey League has already made it a rule that fighters must keep their helmets on.
But Healy also opposes a ban on fighting.
There are fears that a ban would lead to more stick fouls and dirty play, but others argue that fighting has become more dangerous because players today are bigger and hit harder. There is also concern that even legal bodychecks now often lead to fights.
But a six-foot-four skater like Joe Thornton feels that fighting is an integral part of the sport.
“I’m a traditionalist when it comes to hockey,” the San Jose Sharks centre said. “Fighting’s been around since Day One.
“I think it would be a shame to take it out of the game. It’s part of hockey, like tying up your laces or shooting the puck. It’s been part of hockey for a long, long time.”
Even those who don’t drop the gloves like Boston’s Marc Savard are against an outright ban
“Obviously, I don’t do a lot of fighting, but I don’t want to see it taken out of hockey,” said Savard. “From a fan’s perspective, it plays a huge role.
“And there’s guys in the NHL who would lose their livelihood. It’ll be looked at to help the security of the players, but I don’t think you can get rid of fighting.”