OHL putting stop to pre-fight ritual

MORRIS DALLA COSTA -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 8:56 AM ET

It used to be a spontaneous act of combustion.

Now it's simply an act and definitely not spontaneous.

Two guys got angry at each other for whatever reason, dropped their gloves and sticks and fought. Your standard hockey fight happened in the blink of an eye.

Now, preparing for a fight is like preparing for a date.

Two guys come together, ask each other if they want to participate. If there's willingness, they step into open ice, remove their helmets and often their elbow pads, run their hands through their hair, circle each other at a distance like partners doing a minuet and then finally come together to do the deed.

Some of the preparations last longer than the fight. Meanwhile, the game officials stand back watching them go through the rituals.

"It's absolutely ridiculous," said Ted Baker, director of hockey operations and referee-in-chief of the Ontario Hockey League.

The league is working on a directive it will send to teams and its own officials that will outline how to treat this epidemic.

"It's something the league has noticed just recently becoming more prevalent and we are addressing it with the team and our officials," Baker said. "It hasn't gone out yet, but it will. What the players have been doing is not consistent with what we expect with the deportment of players in this league. Officials will be instructed to break up any fight of that nature."

Baker noted a Brampton-Sarnia game recently in which three of these tedious fights took place.

"I don't like it," London Knights general manager Mark Hunter said. " It's too much show."

There is already a $50 fine assessed to a team if a player removes his helmet in preparation for a fight. It doesn't appear to be much of a deterrent.

"We've talked to our guys about taking equipment off. We tell them not to do it. I don't know why they do it," Hunter said.

The league is concerned about the spontaneity of a fight and the undue delay caused by these fight fandangos. (Fandango: Most important of the modern Spanish dances, for couples. The dance begins slowly and tenderly, the rhythm marked by the clack of castanets, snapping of fingers, and stomping of feet. The speed gradually increases to a whirl of exhilaration.)

"Most of the time it's spur-of-the-moment," Knights forward Jordan Foreman said. "But when you get rid of the helmet and elbow pads and (are) skating around, you are getting mentally prepared for it. You want to see if the guy's left-handed or right-handed.

"You take the bucket off because you don't want to get hurt. I got into a fight the other day and the first punch I hit the guy's helmet and I had a sore hand."

Even though there is no specific rule to deal with this type of fighting, Baker said there are applications of existing rules that might deter players from participating in this form of fisticuffs. A 10-minute misconduct can be assessed.

And officials might do their part in moving the game along.

"We don't want (officials) to go in harm's way," Baker said. "In this particular situation where there is somewhat of a 'staged' incident or altercation, we would want our officials to get involved a little earlier."

Break up the dance before it gets going, in other words.

But that's not something players want to see, Foreman said.

"For me, if a linesman jumped in and stopped it, I'd be furious," he said. "It would probably mean that the next time I had the chance, I'd go out and fight."

As for a cut-and-dried penalty for this activity . . .

"You don't want to tie the hands of the officials too much," Baker said. "For example, there may be one player who initiates it. You want to have some type of sanction in place for the players, but you don't want to say it has to be just this.

"There will be a resulting penalty for their actions. If you add two minutes to the 10, that's at the discretion of the referee."


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