SUN Hockey Pool

Huard makes plea for fighting

Billy Huard, shown here as an Oiler during a fight, believes that the NHL should adopt a system...

Billy Huard, shown here as an Oiler during a fight, believes that the NHL should adopt a system where teams must play each person in the lineup a minimum amount per game. (File photo)

EARL MCRAE -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:43 AM ET

Even tough guys deserve to be heard and Billy Huard is speaking out. Speaking out for all those tough guys of hockey, past and present, stigmatized as he was.

Billy Huard, who wants to send his Open Statement to the NHL through me.

Billy Huard, who got in touch with me this week, 13 years after we last spoke when Billy Huard was the toughest guy on the Ottawa Senators, his anointed role to beat opponents up, the public perception of him that of a bloodthirsty goon.

Billy Huard who craved the opportunity to be known and respected for his playing ability as well as his fists.

Billy Huard whose love and passion for the pure game of hockey as a boy growing up in Welland, Ont., along with his dream of playing in the NHL, was no less than that of Steve Yzerman, Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, and others of such star but pacifist ilk whose voices get heard, whose voices carry no more sincerity than those of the game's Billy Huards.

Billy Huard's mom and dad were as thrilled and proud as any loving hockey parents whose son makes the NHL and, like any such parents, their hope was to see their son recognized with ice time for more than just an ability to fight, and what parents' hearts would not be wounded at hearing their child called "goon" and "meathead" and "bum" and worse?

Billy Huard, left winger, who played 63 games for the Senators in 1993-94 with 162 penalty minutes for fighting, and 26 games the next season before being traded to the Quebec Nordiques, Billy Huard whose talented fists carried him to several teams in the NHL, IHL, AHL, his career closing in 2000 with the London Knights of the British Super League.

And now Billy Huard, 39 years old with a wife and three small children, co-owner of a clothing licensing company, says this over the phone from his home in Foothill Ranch, California:

"I retired after my double hernia surgery. My hands and fingers are scarred and disfigured and my wrists have pins in them. My left hand, I can't bring my thumb and the finger next to it together. It's all from the years of fighting. I pay for it every day with the pains in my hands and wrists. But that's what I signed up for, right?"

And then: "Life is not as much about what happens to us, but what happens in us."

And because of what happened in Billy Huard -- Designated Tough Guy, his hands and fingers scarred, disfigured, and in constant pain, permanent pins in his wrists -- Billy Huard deserves to be heard, and NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, like it or not, has an obligation to hear him.

The Open Statement of Billy Huard:

"Since my retirement, I have seen all the rule changes, another lockout, and the demise of the fan base in a big way. And behind much of this seems to be 'the fighting issue.' Nobody can figure out how to deal with this. Here is what I, a former fighter, has to say, someone who performed the role for a living.

"This is not about wrestling, NASCAR, or Ultimate Fighting, this about a great game, hockey. For many years the role of a fighter was not just for a select group, everyone was held accountable for what they did on the ice, big or small, then came the great mind and brainstorm idea: Hire hitmen, play them only when you need to, build your game plan around them.

"What then happened was that the hitmen, who grew up wanting to be hockey players, not gladiators, lost their purpose for the game they loved and wanted to play since they were children. They now had to perform a task they never thought they would have to, just to be NHL hockey players.

"The coaches, most of whom never performed the task, and the GMs of the league, saw a new and real profitable way to market a great game. It eventually backfired, what they are left with are the referees now trying to keep this time bomb under control, which is impossible to do. The gladiators, most of whom in frustration, have self-destructed, or left the game in a negative manner, and all because nobody wanted to tackle the issue head on. The players no longer control the environment.

"You want to restore the great game, here is what I say. Have a minimum amount of ice time per team, each player has to play a minimum amount of ice time. This will allow you to have a tough team, with players who know they are going to be used as hockey players, not just gladiators for someone else's amusement, forcing coaches to have to actually coach, like the NFL. Your tough guys will have to be placed on special teams once in a while.

"Here is what will happen. You will have team toughness, you will make your tough guys better hockey players, you will have fewer cheapshot artists. Fights will be spontaneous, not premeditated, and the players will control the game again.

"Hockey will be fun to watch. When New Jersey won the Cup several years ago, the Peluso-McKay-Holik line was the difference. If you have your so-called tough guys spread throughout the lineup, playing regular shifts, you have the great game of hockey back. No more players taking liberties, and the so-called fighters can actually live out their dream as players, contributing more than just as fighters.

"I am not sure many of these screaming fans would want their own boys becoming fighters, I would think they would want them to become more like the old Wendel Clark and Rick Tocchets of the world. Get rid of the instigator rule, and mandate ice time. This will make hockey a better game to watch, fights will still be prevalent.

"The coach will no longer have the great authority to give the 'tap' on the shoulder to the player who has been sitting on the bench for the last two periods. The coach will actually have to have a game plan. When you watch an NFL game, you see coaches looking at faxes on every play.

"To all those coaches who gave the infamous tap, I suggest you look in the mirror if, for one second, you think that was an easy task for the guy getting the tap. I suggest you do your homework, think back on the John Kordics of the day. There was more behind that role than you could ever imagine, but I am not going to open Pandora's Box, I will let you answer for yourselves.

"Fighting will be part of hockey again in the way it was supposed to be. Unfortunately, you have to put in place rules for coaches because if you don't, they will abuse it again. The WHL, OHL, QHL are full of players who can fill these roles, hard-nosed hockey players who can play while at the same time take care of business.

"Let them play again. The game will be awesome to watch, full of action, hitting, scoring, and fighting -- the difference being that the fighter will now be allowed to score and play, which is what he signed up for when he started: His dream of playing in the NHL. It is so easy to sit back and talk about problems while offering no solutions. Maybe this one will give them something to think about. Hope it does not fall on deaf ears."


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