No easy answer in debate on fighting

When Bob Nicholson speaks, people listen. The same goes for David Branch.

When Bob Nicholson speaks, people listen. The same goes for David Branch.

Certainly, the New York Times sat up and took notice when Hockey Canada president Nicholson and Canadian Hockey League president Branch suggested to the newspaper that fighting could soon be abolished in junior hockey. The Times, hardly a sounding board for the game at the junior level, gave significant space to the subject.

“The appetite is there,” Branch told the Times. “The time is certainly right to move forward.”

Nicholson was even more direct.

“The official stance from Hockey Canada is that we want to get rid of fighting as quickly as we can,” he said.

In this day of commonly-occurring concussions, the notion of removing fighting from the game is seen by many as a safety measure. To others, such a drastic measure could open up a whole new can of worms.

“It’s certainly a hot topic and to be honest I don’t know what side of the fence I’m on,” said Red Deer Rebels GM/head coach Jesse Wallin.

“Really, there’s no easy answer. Certainly I think there’s a place for it in the game and I think there always has been. You look at the head injuries, the concussions, and the vast majority of them don’t come from fighting, they come from the dangerous hits that take place . . . the hits along the glass, the elbows, the excessive speed . . . liberties that are taken in the game today that I think fighting curbed 15 years ago.”

Wallin pointed to a hit on Turner Elson Tuesday in Moose Jaw. The Rebels forward sustained a head injury that kept him out of Wednesday’s game at Regina and will not allow him to play tonight and Saturday at the Centrium.

“Fifteen years ago, a hit like that probably would have resulted in a five-on-five brawl or at least the offending player having to answer for it,” said Wallin, noting that the frequency of fisticuffs has diminished over the years.

“Fighting helped curb that type of hit and eliminated some of the injuries we are seeing today,” he continued. “Having said that, the line brawls and the bench-clearing brawls that were a little more common 15 to 30 years ago . . . I don’t think there’s necessarily a place for that. I think it’s good that the game has kind of cleaned that up.

“The argument can be made for both sides and it’s just a real difficult topic. I think if we do take fighting out of the game that there has to be real effort made to eliminate the results that are going to take place as a result — the extra stick work and the liberties that are taken. That’s the most dangerous area to me — the hits to the head.”

Vancouver Giants bench boss Don Hay isn’t in favour of a fighting ban at the major junior level unless the NHL takes the initial step.

“We follow the lead of the NHL,” Hay told the Vancouver Sun.

“If they have fighting, I don’t think it’s fair to our players to not have them exposed to it. I mean, if you have no fighting in our league, then all of the sudden you’re exposed to fighting at the NHL level, that makes it tough for your players to go into that league. The fighting aspect of their skill package could help them make a living at the next level.”

Hay admitted that he would change his stance if the NHL banned fighting.

“If the National Hockey League is going to take it out of their game, then we should take it out of ours because there is no point to it,” Hay continued. “The NHL will set the standards for the other leagues, whether it’s the American League or our league. The people who want to get to the NHL eventually have to play under the same rules the NHL is playing under.”

l Moose Jaw Warriors forward Kenton Miller was assessed a boarding major for the hit on Elson and was suspended for one game by WHL disciplinarian Richard Doerksen.

gmeachem@bprda.wpengine.com

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