OHL grads adjust to university rules

RYAN PYETTE, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:08 AM ET

Todd Bertuzzi has long been the NHL poster boy for violence in pro hockey. But he went to the Olympics in 2006 and didn't fight.

Players who dropped the gloves regularly in major junior have moved on to Canadian university and, for the most part, stopped fighting.

Kevin Wamsley knows why.

"When players are selected to go to the Olympics or the world juniors, there's a definite culture shift," said the University of Western Ontario professor and director of the international centre for Olympic studies. "The players are out of their normal environment and aren't together as a team for that long, so there are no defined roles. They're taken out of their element and away from the game where their roles have been defined for them since they were very young.

"They go as travellers to the Olympics where fighting just isn't tolerated, just like it isn't . . . in university hockey."

It'll be easy to see the difference in philosophies at the John Labatt Centre next weekend. The Knights play Friday and Western the next night.

The Mustangs are one of the least penalized clubs in Ontario university ranks. Most of their players came from the OHL but it will be a noteworthy event if one of them engages in one fight -- all season.

"You're dealing with a different clientele in university hockey than the OHL," said Mustangs head coach Clarke Singer.

"In the OHL, the players are aged 16 to 20 and in university, they're typically 21 to 26, and their view on fighting is usually different. As they get older, they don't see fighting as showmanship any more.

"It's not used as a tool in our league. You're not going to get me to say fighting should be banned outright in hockey but it's not part of our game."

The deterrents are more pronounced in university hockey than they are in the NHL and major junior. Also, games are more valuable because there are a lot less.

"A player who fights gets kicked out not only for that game but the next one too," Singer said. "There's supplemental discipline. If you get in a second fight, you'll sit two more games and the penalties are always subject to review.

"Players want to be on the ice and there's such a battle to be on the roster with us carrying 24, 25 guys, that if you miss a game-and-a-half for fighting, boom, you're done and you might never get your spot back."

There's no chance of the economic-fuelled NHL reducing its number of games but it can easily increase its punishment for fighting.

"That's where it should start," said Graham Pollett, medical officer of health with the Middlesex-London Health Unit. "Hockey's a physical game -- and it always will be -- and that's part of what we love about it, but fighting doesn't have to be in it.

"When people get hurt from fights, it becomes a public issue. For it to stop, I believe it's going to take more pressure from people. We're starting to see that discussion going in that direction. It's unnecessary in hockey."

Last year, the local health unit put out a study against violence in hockey -- not just fighting, but checking from behind, hits to the head and stickwork. There's a concussion symposium tomorrow at the London Hilton that will touch on many of hockey's health hazards.

But it won't end there.

"We're going to keep going at this until things change," Pollett said.

For years, university hockey didn't have a lot of scraps but the feared stickwork and lack of accountability was -- both arguments the pro-fighting crowd uses to keep enforcers on rosters.

"I think the biggest positive change in our league was going to visors instead of the full cages," Singer said.

"That took care of a lot of the stickwork. You're given a choice. You can wear a visor or stay with the cage, and some guys in the league do to protect dental work they had. But that (rule change) had nothing to do with fighting."


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