The major junior circuit already had a mandatory suspension in place for players who fought 10 times in a season, but now the threshold has been lowered to three games. It’s part of a new rules package that also cracks down on blindside hits.
The Ontario League has announced big rule changes for the 2016-17 campaign, with fighting one of the biggest targets.
Under a 2012-13 rule, players were automatically suspended two games once they had accumulated 10 fighting majors. Now, the threshold is three games. After the initial suspension, more games are tacked on for each individual fight – assuming the player was not goaded into the fight by an instigating opponent.
Only four players had 10 or more fights last season, led by Los Angeles Kings draft pick Jacob Friend (13) of Owen Sound. But 82 players fought at least three times, according to Hockeyfights.com, so the new punishment will cast a long shadow. According to the OHL, fighting was down nearly 50 percent since the introduction of the 10-game threshold and no player has hit the mark in the past two years (several of Friend’s fights were instigated by his opponent).
In the Quebec League, the 10-game threshold was introduced this past season, but with a slight alteration. Instead of the 10th game causing an automatic suspension, the player and his GM were required to meet with commissioner Gilles Courteau and a suspension was at his discretion. According to QMJHL spokesman Photi Sotiropolous, only two or three players required such meetings.
In the WHL, there are rules against staged fights, but not on the number of bouts in particular. The most fights by a player in the Dub last season was 16, by Prince George’s Colby McAuley. Seven players in the league fought at least 10 times.
In the USHL, which is not under the umbrella of the CHL, there is very little fighting. Only two players registered four fights in 2015-16, and they were the league leaders. According to league rules, after six fights in a season, a player is suspended until the league reviews his record. After that, a one-game suspension and/or $1,500 fine is possible. After nine fights, the suspension is an automatic two games, with more possible disciple after review.
There are also penalties for staged fights and playoff fights.
Fighting in junior hockey has been controversial for the past several years, as the notion of a 16-year-old taking on a 20-year-old has been raised as a squeamish proposition. Then it literally happened last year when overager Kelly Bent of Halifax went after Saint John’s Joseph Veleno. Because Veleno entered the ‘Q’ a year early as an exceptional status player, he was actually only 15 at the time. Teammate and Tampa Bay pick Bokondji Imama eventually came off the bench to defend Veleno, receiving a 15-game suspension in the process.
Along with the new fighting rule, the OHL introduced a couple more significant changes. The first is a blindside hit rule, wherein that infraction will spefically be punished. The referee has the discretion to call a minor, major, misconduct or match penalty and further league discipline could follow.
The OHL will also adapt the hybrid icing rule used in the NHL.