Fight ban begins with QMJHL, but other junior leagues must follow suit

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Imagine if a 20-year-old adult hit your 16-year-old son while walking down the street. You would be outraged, wouldn’t you? You would probably file a police report and press charges. So why is it different if the act is committed during a hockey game?

It shouldn’t be. It is an assault. And that’s why I think the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League is making the right decision to ban fights starting in the 2023-24 season. It is ridiculous to think that minors should be subjected to this type of violence, voluntarily or not.

Go ahead and try to tell me why you think kids should fight with their bare hands on the ice for the fun of paying customers. Last time I checked, junior teams charge for admission. And you know, there are still people who show up just to see the violence.

Does it suit you? It’s definitely not for me. I can’t imagine sitting in the stands watching my child endure a preventable brain injury that has the potential to affect him for the rest of his life. If that makes me sweet, so be it.

I played junior hockey back in the three ring circus days. This was NAHL in the late 90s and early 2000s and, to put it bluntly, it was insane. Fights in all areas. Sixteen-year-old kids getting their heads kicked by 21-year-old jerks who weren’t good enough to make senior junior teams.

At the time, I didn’t think much about it. I even enjoyed it. The fights were exciting. It was exciting when a teammate beat an opponent’s wheels.

As I got older, I realized how stupid it all was. Hardly anyone made it from the NAHL to the NHL back then. But the punches were not lacking. It was like that.

It sickens me to think of the large number of brain injuries that took place in the two years that I played junior hockey. Especially considering he was actively encouraged by league coaches. Adults sending children to fight. No helmets. No gloves. On skates.

Sometimes it was an act of retaliation. Other times it was an attempt to change the momentum of the game. But it was mostly sheer bravado. Kids trying to prove they were man enough to play hockey at higher levels. They would do anything to get on the scoresheet.

I will never forget a pre-season tournament our team played in Detroit. There were junior teams from all over America. And we had this guy on our roster — a 20-year-old who had played in the lower-tier AWHL the season before — who was an absolute maniac. We all knew he was a loose cannon.

It didn’t take long for him to find a taker: a kid from the Boston area wearing a full cage, too young to wear a half shield. At the time, you had to be 18 to do without face protection. And in the NAHL, half shields weren’t even mandatory. Just a bucket.

They took off their helmets. Squared. And my teammate ended that poor kid’s career instantly. Broken nose and eye socket. Missing teeth. He remained on his knees for what seemed like an eternity as the pool of blood grew around him.

What if it was your son? It makes me uncomfortable to think about it. And it was so unnecessary. The fight had nothing to do with the game.

I think it’s important to understand. The goal of hockey is to score more goals than the other team. Combat does not accomplish this. It is incidental.

I don’t hear any complaints about the lack of fighting at the Olympics. Or NCAA Div. I play hockey. Or the women’s game.

Yet the old argument still exists that players need to fight in junior hockey in order to be ready for the pro game. Which is downright silly. Fighting is banned in Europe and NCAA hockey. Yet that’s where a large percentage of NHL players come from.

Do you remember how tough George Parros and Kevin Westgarth were? These guys played Div. I play hockey at Princeton University. An Ivy League school. And Brady Tkachuk – the captain of the Ottawa Senators – seems to be doing well when he takes off his mitts despite his studies at Boston University.

But here’s where I want to make a very clear distinction: I don’t want fighting to be banned in professional hockey. If two consenting adults want to try, that’s their decision. With a few caveats.

I can’t stand staged fights. And I don’t like the way things are going in the NHL right now where hits — clean or not — seem to warrant a fight in response. I would much rather see fights happen in the moment between two players who are just so mad at each other that going up against each other is the only answer. Crimes of passion, if you will.

But fighting junior hockey? It should be banned by all junior leagues in North America. It’s useless. And it’s extremely dangerous considering the difference in strength between 16-year-old boys and 20-year-old men. Battle damage to the brain is well documented. The lasting effects caused by CTE are real.

I think the QMJHL is doing the right thing and I hope other leagues will follow. There is no justifiable reason to continue to risk children’s health just for profit or tradition.


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