WHL reviewing fighting rules

IAN BUSBY AND WES GILBERTSON, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:07 AM ET

In the wake of a player death resulting from a fight, the Ontario Hockey League is scrapping helmetless bouts.

The Western Hockey League doesn't have a rule about players taking off their lids for fights but will be reviewing the issue in the coming months.

"We are going through our options on this matter," said Richard Doerksen, the WHL's vice-president of hockey.

"One of the key things, because we develop players for the NHL, is to see what their position is."

The OHL, which used to hand out $100 fines to players who take off their helmets or unbuckle their chinstraps for fights, announced yesterday it has upped the penalty to a game-misconduct and automatic one-game suspension.

The crackdown comes in the wake of the death of Ontario senior player Don Sanderson, who hit his head on the ice after his helmet came off during the course of a fight.

The WHL, like the NHL, doesn't penalize for removing helmets.

Calgary Hitmen GM Kelly Kisio would support the WHL if it adopts the OHL rule.

"We have to do whatever is right to protect the kids," Kisio said. "If the WHL decides to go in the same direction as the OHL, it will be a group decision.

"I'm not sure what the right direction is. I honestly don't know. It's hard to say. I haven't sat down and thought a heck of a lot about it right now."

Although CHL and OHL commissioner David Branch has publicly said fighting should no longer be part of hockey, Kisio disagrees with that opinion.

"The chances of that happening, for me, are slim and none," Kisio said. "If you did, you might as well put two by fours in the kids' hands. If there are no repercussions, then you will have problems with stick work. If the guys aren't held accountable for stick work, then you will have a war on your hands."

Rocky Thompson, a Calgarian who has his fists to thank for a pair of brief stints with the Flames, also figures fighting keeps players honest.

"If you take one thing out, then other things are going to probably elevate, you would assume," said Thompson, now an assistant coach with the WHL's Edmonton Oil Kings. "If there are no repercussions for a way a guy plays or handles himself, then he can do a lot of things that can be dangerous in their own right."

Thompson racked up 906 penalty minutes in five seasons in the WHL and a whopping 2,036 minutes in the sin bin in a pro career that spanned a decade. He amassed 86 PIMs in 15 games with the Flames in the 1997-98 and 98-99 campaigns.

He doesn't think barring players from removing their lids for bouts is a wise move.

He suggested removable visors as an alternative and said Branch should've consulted former fighters before making the bold move.

"I never wanted my helmet to come off either, playing pro, but they made us wear visors in my last season (in the American Hockey League) so we had to start taking our helmets off when we squared off, and I hated it," he said.

"I wanted that protection in certain areas -- my head, my skull -- if I fell or whatever the case was. And I wore the leather straps and tightened my chinstrap up so the thing never came off.

"To me, if you just take that visor off ... guys can still square off."


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