Canadians losing stomach for fighting

Thane Burnett, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 4:29 PM ET

When enforcer Dean Mayrand would punch out opponents in the notoriously rough Quebec lower-pro hockey league, he'd pound away with his own fight song blaring over the arena P.A. system. The name of his battling theme? The Final Countdown.

According to an exclusive Leger Marketing poll for Sun Media, the tune fits, as a majority of Canadians are losing the stomach for fighting in both the NHL and minor leagues. The poll — taken after Ontario defenceman Don Sanderson died when his head hit the ice during a fight in a AAA senior league game on Dec. 12 — has found Mayrand has reason to believe the days of scrapping on the ice are numbered.

The Leger poll shows a majority of Canadians — almost six in 10 — feel fighting in the minor hockey ranks should be banned, and players should face more suspensions than just being tossed out of the game. Only 8% of people felt fighting is a part of the game.

As well, more than half say the NHL would benefit from stricter punishments.

Mayrand, who recently retired from playing to become an Alberta gas well operator, once broke his hand three times during one season while knocking heads in the Ligue Nord-Americaine de Hockey — perhaps the toughest league on earth. When enforcers go at it, the arena lights dim and a spotlight highlights the throw-down.

“Whether we like it or not, fighting is entertaining.” Mayrand says while travelling to a job site in Cold Lake, Alta. “I don't want to see it taken out of hockey.”

Despite the Quebec league's bloody reputation, the Leger poll found there is more opposition to fighting in La Belle Province — along with the Maritimes — than anywhere else in the country.

Across the country, 54% of those polled found the game would be better and more skilled if fighters were punished more.

Leger pollster, Christian Bourque, says the death of Sanderson likely turned on a light switch in many people's minds, noting: “I think in the aftermath of a tragic death that was highly publicized, it becomes not a matter of sport, but one of public safety. Before, more people would have sat on the fence.”

According to the poll, the province which wants to hang onto fighting more than any other is B.C. Which may explain why, in 2005, Mayrand won the inaugural Battle of the Hockey Enforcers pay-per-view spectacle where hockey tough guys squared off in a Prince George, B.C., arena. He took home the $62,000 purse. From his hockey career — where he earned 1,656 penalty minutes from 1999 to 2008 — he took away the love of his fans and a hand which, when it's cold, won't open fully. It ruined a promising amateur boxing career, he laments.

“I'm not aggressive by nature,” he says. “It was a career choice. That’s how I succeeded.”

While he believes the essence of the game is passing the puck, he says fighting has always been about entertainment.

“That feeling ... that you're challenging yourself. That can be a good feeling,” he says.

“But I think their (enforcers’) time is limited."

Now 31 years old, and starting to build a new career that doesn't include decking co-workers, Mayrand knows he could have wished to be the finesse player, but has no real regrets, saying: “It was the best time of my life.”

But pollster Bourque believes the majority of Canadians have turned a corner on the issue, adding: “The closer you get to true hockey fans (especially men) the more conservative they become, but...there is no turning back on this issue.”

Leger Marketing conducted the poll online, surveying 1,505 Canadians. The margin of error for a sample of this size is plus or minus 2.5%, 19 out of 20 times.


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