Revisiting Violence in the NLSHL

Updated: January 28, 2014
NLSHL Hockey Violence | Newfoundland Hockey Talk

In the last few days you can’t tune into any of the national news sites to check sports without seeing the reports about Vancouver Canucks head coach John Tortorella and the recent brawl that happened between the Flames and Canucks.  Switch to any social media site and the debate raged on, with tweets being re-tweeted, videos being posted, pictures being shared and armchair coaches weighing in on the entire incident.  Critics were debating the age-old topic of “violence in hockey”, things that the league needs to do to put an end to fighting and the need to showcase the skilled players.

Fighting in the Newfoundland and Labrador Senior Hockey League is governed by Regulation 6.

7 of Hockey Canada rules.  This regulation states:

“A Major penalty and a Game Misconduct shall be assessed any player that fights with an opposing player.”

This regulation had always been in place but covered only minor and female hockey.  Hockey Canada made the change in 2010 and included junior and senior, ensuring that all levels of amateur hockey was covered by the same regulations.  Hockey Newfoundland and Labrador (HNL) incorporated this change into its by-laws and strengthened the penalty assessed to players who participated in subsequent fights throughout the season.  Any player engaging in three or more fights is subject to suspensions from one game to an indefinite suspension.

The NLSHL is somewhat of an anomaly when it comes to senior hockey.  Players are paid for their services and in many cases, the “stars” and “imports” are compensated quite nicely for playing on the weekends.  It’s led to the league itself developing a reputation as a pseudo-professional league.  Many teams actively scout talent from outside the province in hopes of improving their on-ice product that much more and many of the teams have budgets that reach into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Yet fighting is all but eliminated from the NLSHL.  Should the rule changes implemented by Hockey Newfoundland and Labrador even apply given that the league is paying player and therefore can be considered professional?

Here’s where people will start criticizing saying that violence has no part in hockey.  However, we are not talking about the type of violence glorified in the Hollywood movie Slap Shot where the Hanson brothers were seen “putting on the foil”.

Eliminating fighting has not stopped the stick work, hasn’t stopped the shots to the head and it has not stopped the hitting from behind.

Just look at how the game is organized.  We take 12 players put them on the ice skates, stick them in a confined space, throw in a black rubber puck, give them sticks, dress them up in ‘protective’ gear and allow them to pound each other ‘legally’ with body checks in hopes of putting the puck in the net of the opposing team.  We assess minor penalties for slashing with a stick or give double-minors for unintentionally drawing blood with said stick (which would get you jail time off the ice).

That’s the reality.

Hockey is a violent sport and maybe, just maybe, when someone does something to upset an opposing player, chops him with a stick or drives him head-first into the boards, a fight might break out.  The player who fights gets tossed from the game and the player who has chopped with the stick gets sent to a small box for 2-minutes.  Makes perfect sense (please note the sarcasm).

Is there something wrong with this part of the game?  Has removed fighting changed the dynamics of the game?  Has it created a boring product?

Talk to any of the fans who attend any of the games in the Newfoundland and Labrador Senior Hockey League and they will tell you one thing – the games lack intensity.  They say players don’t ‘hate’ one another enough to make the games entertaining because they just skate around passing the puck back and forth.  Fans complain of some of the stick work they see, some of the chops and hits from behind that go unnoticed by the referees.

If you ask the fans about a great pass or a nifty move, chances are no one noticed.  If you asked the fans about a bone-crushing body check or a tilt when two players dropped their gloves and squared off – everyone noticed!

We are not condoning employing a team of enforcers whose only job is to go out and draw blood or to intentionally start a fight.

That is fundamentally wrong on so many levels.

Eliminating fighting from the game has impacted things on many levels.  The pendulum has swung too far with respect to ‘hockey violence’ that it has taken away from the game and has left the fans wanting more, they crave for some entertaining hockey that means something or that has some intensity to it.  They talk about the old-time rivalries and many went to see the games because of the potential of what might happen during the 60 minutes of play.

Each team has their star players who can skate, score and entertain on their own level but the game has changed so much now that everyone wants to be that one player who can skate from one end to the other end, dance around the opposition, deke the goalie and put the puck in the net.  Unfortunately, that isn’t going to happen and what we see developing in the Newfoundland and Labrador Senior Hockey League is boring hockey and this boring hockey has cost the teams at the gates.  Attendance and revenues are down.  Fans have grown disillusioned with what they are watching.

Things suddenly change if a player lays a wicked body check on the opposing team’s leading scorer and knocks him on his behind.  That scorer will think twice about telegraphing that same move again and you can sure bet the coach will put some protection out on the ice the next shift and maybe, just maybe, you’ll build intensity back.

  It’s like the Cold War of the 80’s, you knew there wasn’t going to be a nuclear war but the threat was just enough to keep you on edge.

Putting that threat back into the game and allowing the players to get a little more physical will put more bums in the seats.  We’ve seen it here on Newfoundland Hockey Talk when the Clarenville Caribous and Corner Brook Royals games broke out into a brawl.  Site traffic increased one-thousand percent (yes, you read that right) after the incidents.  Why?  People wanted to read about what went on, it was the talk of the province and it attracted attention.

Yes, we know that players can still check one another and that occasionally that does happen.  And yes, the rules do allow a fight right now but to be honest, players know it means they are gone for the game.  They are less likely to drop the gloves and it won’t happen again and again because it means more and more suspensions.  Players do not want to let their teammates down and leave them short benched.

The longevity of the NLSHL depends on fan support.  Is it time to revisit the rules around fighting?  We’re not saying that it is the only solution but adding that dynamic to the league and to a team definitely would change the playing field again.  There has to be something done or fans will leave and won’t come back.

 Interest is waning and maybe, just maybe, it’s time to revisit things in the NLSHL.

Share your thoughts below in the comment section or drop by and visit us on our Newfoundland Hockey Talk discussion forum.

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