Mr. David Branch,
Commissioner, Ontario Hockey League;
President, Canadian Hockey League
Dear Dave, Thought it was time we caught up. Good seeing you the night of the Knights when they set the record for longest unbeaten streak. But we didn't get that much of chance to talk. Too much going on that night.
And it's been even longer since we had a good old-fashioned dust-up. You were upset at that time -- about 15 years ago -- when, while at another newspaper, we looked favourably on the institution of NCAA hockey in a comparison with the OHL of the day.
Didn't play favourites going in. We used Ottawa 67's and Brian Kilrea and Michigan State and Ron Mason as the focal points.
But so much has changed since then. We're both a little greyer, the hockey players seem so much younger (and stronger and faster), and the arenas all have private boxes.
Two things, however, have stayed the same: Firstly, the players remain grossly underpaid for the dollars that flow into teams such as the Knights and arenas such as the JLC (only $9.25 for a large draft).
Yes, I know there are more dollars being directed to the university funding. But it's still a steal when it comes to dollars flowing downhill.
But more important, fighting remains a major component of your game.
After watching one of the most violent hockey games I have seen in years (Game 3 last Monday at the JLC), I phoned Brad Beer the next day to congratulate him on his heroic refereeing effort the night before.
He -- not any player on either team -- was the first star in that game. I shudder to think what might have happened in the JLC that night if any of your other officials had handled that game.
You realized Brad's accomplishments when you handed out suspensions to both teams and the Game 5 assignment back to the London-based Beer.
But officiating can only save games when the game itself is the problem. Listen to Londoner Carl J. Good in a letter to this newspaper and the Toronto Sun:
"As a fan and also someone who cares about the values we teach our children, I am quickly realizing that fighting as a whole is ruining a game that could be so great if it had any level of civility," Good wrote in his closing paragraph.
Throughout Good's thoughtful essay, he made the point that he isn't bothered by a "good hockey fight" as long as that is not the acceptable path to other possibility tragic incidents. It's at this point I could mention Todd Bertuzzi and Steve Moore, but I don't need to.
We could also mention that penalty total figures were brought up several times in the Kitchener-London series, but not anyone mentions the little game the OHL plays in that regard -- misconducts and game misconduct minutes aren't counted in those totals. They are in all other brands of hockey.
We also know you're trying your best to prepare your players for the NHL, and therefore keep the rules as close to the NHL game as possible. The major notable exception is putting the no-touch icing in place while the NHL dithers on that one. Thanks for that.
But I think you need to look at the needless fighting and the absolutely scary levels of violence. Start with the fighting. If you fight, you're out of the game. You fight a second time in a season, two games. And so on.
Two things can happen this way.
One, a fight could become a tactical move rather than a barbaric move. And secondly, the offshoots of the fighting would be reduced.
The fighting-and-you're-out-of-the-game rule is good enough for the NCAA, all other amateur hockey in this country, and even the world championships now being contested in Austria. And of course, the Olympics.
With the Memorial Cup now days, rather than months away, please give some thought to this issue.
We'll have more time to chat then.