The Ontario Hockey League has taken another step toward eliminating staged fights from its games.
A new rule, announced by the league Wednesday and effective starting Friday, calls for additional penalties to players who fight prior to or at the start of a game or period.
Players who fight at those times will be thrown out of the game and handed automatic one-game suspensions, with increased bans for subsequent infractions. The teams also will be hit with $500 fines, which will increase by the same amount each additional time it happens.
"This is another way to strip away issues you don't like in the game," OHL commissioner David Branch said. "It's something we've looked at (before)."
Branch added that the mid-season rule change, which was approved by the league's board of governors Monday, is not a reaction to an increase in staged fights this season, but rather a natural progression of the league's stance toward fighting. He said there have been only 10 fights that fall under the new rule's criteria this season.
"I don't want to say (there have been) more. Last year we had a study group of our players come in and one of the things that came at us from the discussion was there were some staged fights being done.
"It's not an alarming number but it's something we feel is needless."
The OHL is the second of the three leagues that fall under the Canadian Hockey League umbrella to institute a rule of this nature.
The Western Hockey League has been using a similar rule -- the team fines are $250 and go up incrementally and coaches can potentially be suspensed if it happens repeatedly -- since 2008-09, but the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League has not yet made the change. The WHL rule includes harsher penalties than the one brought in by the OHL.
The rule has worked exactly as was intended, according to Rick Doerksen, the WHL's vice-president of hockey. He says it didn't take long for the players to adapt, adding that there was just one fight covered under the new rule the season after it was adopted and none the next.
"It has just about been eliminated totally," Doerksen said of staged fights. "It went very quickly, very smoothly. When the players realize they're not going to play (if they fight at the start of the game), it doesn't take very long.
"There has to be some kind of a play before a fight can occur. That's not a staged fight. But even those are few and far between."
While in-season changes are rare in the NHL, the OHL hasn't been afraid to tweak its rule book mid-stream.
Last year, when Don Sanderson died as a result of injuries from a senior-league fight -- his helmet popped off and his unprotected head hit the ice, resulting in massive trauma -- the OHL mandated that players who removed their helmet during fights would be suspended. Linesmen were instructed to quickly break up fights if players had their helmet knocked off.
And in 2008, after Richard Zednik of the Florida Panthers had his throat cut accidentally during an NHL game, the OHL quickly responded by making neck protectors mandatory.
"We've made adjustments on several occasions over the last few years," Branch said. (The governors) received a recommendation that we put this new policy in."
The change was not in effect for the two OHL games Wednesday and another Thursday.