OHL to suspend players that fight more than 10 times in a season

By Adam Gretz | Hockey writer

The video above features Ty Bilcke of the Windsor Spitfires and Derek Mathers of the Peterborough Petes dropping the gloves in an Ontario Hockey League game last season. Bilcke and Mathers were two of the league's top fighters during the 2011-12 campaign, dropping the gloves 31 and 22 times respectively.

Any player that attempts to fight that many times this season could be facing discipline from the league.

The Ontario Hockey League is going to start start handing out team fines and suspensions this year to players that fight more than 10 times during the season, the first of the three Canadian Hockey Leagues to introduce such a rule.

Commissioner David Branch announced on Wednesday that fights 11-15 will result in a two-game suspension. Fights 16-20 will not only result in a two-game suspension, but also a $1,000 fine for the team. This will no doubt be viewed as at least one step toward the complete removal of fighting in the league at some point down the line, and it could also have a long-term impact on the NHL game as well. Changes like this always start at lower levels, and as young players start to play the game a different way those changes will eventually start to be noticed at the NHL level.

Take the constant call for mandatory visors as one small example: even though they aren't mandatory at the NHL level, the overwhelming majority of players in the league currently wear one anyway -- including almost all of the young players that enter the NHL -- because they came up wearing them at lower levels (where they were mandatory). Why wouldn't something similar eventually happen here (assuming this actually serves as a deterrent to fighting)? It wouldn't happen overnight of course, or even in a short period of time.

According to the hockeyfights.com database there were 31 players in the OHL last season that had at least 10 fights, including three players -- Bilcke, Johnny McGuire, and Mathers -- that had over 20.

Bilcke dropped the gloves a league-leading 37 times. No other player fought more than 23 times.

It shouldn't be much of a surprise that it's come to this. Last December CHL commissioner David Branch told Michael Traikos of the National Post that he was concerned about the number of fights in three junior leagues and would continue to take steps to reduce them, including punishments for what he called habitual fighters.

“I think, practically, that's really the only rule you could have,” Branch told the Post back in December. “And then you may choose going forward to increase the sanctions if you become a habitual fighter. There's such a changing attitude. If you had brought that up 20 years ago, [team owners and general managers] would have shook their heads. Now, there's more and more people saying, ‘How can we get there?' And it's coming.”

In at least one league, it's here. And it's probably not going to go over well with hardcore hockey fans.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter and like us on Facebook.

 
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