Faceoff bouts need to be knocked out

MORRIS DALLA COSTA, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:37 AM ET

The next step in the gradual phasing out of fighting in hockey is eliminating premeditated bouts.

What happened Friday, when the London Knights and the Windsor Spitfires played an Ontario Hockey League game, is indefensible.

The London Knights started a forward line of Garrett Hunter, Mike Yovanic and Jason Wilson. Their combined point total is 27 points, 15 of them from Wilson.

The Spitfires started a line that included Lane MacDermid and Richard Greenop. MacDermid is a pretty good player with 30 points. Greenop has six points. The same number Spitfires defenceman Harry Young has and Young started Friday as well.

Getting an early goal was obviously not the intention of either lineup.

Sure enough, two seconds into the game, Greenop and Yovanic dropped their gloves and started fighting.

Four seconds in, Young and Wilson squared up.

Four seconds, two fights.

You can't say it was spontaneous or the emotion of the game.

Everyone in the building knew the teams were going to fight. Yovanic and Greenop were lined up opposite each other for almost two minutes as everyone waited for Rogers Sportsnet to come back from a television break. There was some jostling, lots of jawing and the referees and linesmen were hovering close by.

The crowd was yowling in anticipation.

You can't say anyone was taken by surprise.

Still, the puck was dropped and somehow the two managed to get together. The linesmen made an effort to get involved, but were too late.

The rule for linesmen is if a fight appears to be staged, linesmen are to jump between the combatants to prevent it from happening.

It used to be the players removed their helmets and straightened their hair. But with the league handing out game misconducts for the deliberate removal of helmets, players keep them on.

That's just what Friday's situation needed, stern punishments that will prevent it from happening.

"There's a fine line when an altercation happens at the beginning of the game," OHL vice-president Ted Baker said. "But it will be addressed.

"How we've dealt with fighting is an evolution. We've dealt with bench clearings, instigators, fights instigated in the last five minutes, staged fighting and we'll be looking at premeditated fighting as well."

Defenders of fighting can find reasons for just about anything. It's hard to figure out what the reason is for the kind of thing that happened Friday. It didn't do anything to change the flow of the game since the game hadn't started yet.

Officials need to be given freedom and support when they make the tough penalty calls. That's how to prevent the fight off the opening faceoff.

When Yovanic and Greenop kept at each other, they should have been slapped with misconducts.

"If there is room to get in before the combatants begin, we tell our officials to get in," said Conrad Hache, the OHL's director of officiating. "The referees also have discretion on the kind of penalties they assess."

Team officials won't like any of this, of course. If their thugs are assessed penalties that keep them off the ice, they aren't much good to the team so coaches will berate officials during the game. When it's over, they'll complain to the league.

The league shouldn't be intimidated. It needs to back its officials. It also needs to cut down on the time referees talk to coaches. Once they explain the call, there's no need for further discussions. There are nights when it looks like a debating competition between referee and coach.

At least the league has adjusted its new helmet rule. Initially when a helmet came off, linesmen were told to intercede immediately regardless if fists were still flying.

"There was some concerns expressed by officials," Baker said. "The change was a common sense type of thing."

Now even if a helmet comes off, linesmen can wait until there's a "safe environment," for them to jump in.

"We're conscious of the players' safety," Baker said. "You don't want to ignore the safety of your officials."

Common sense also says its time to stop the stupidity of what happened at the drop of the puck Friday.


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