AJHL coaches would sooner pull punches

WES GILBERTSON, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:09 AM ET

Ask Don Phelps for his opinion on fighting in hockey, and the longtime Calgary Canucks bench boss doesn't pull any punches.

If it was up to him, it would already be a thing of the past.

"I laugh at the so-called hockey experts who say fighting is a part of the game," Phelps said. "It's a part of the game because we allow it to be -- that's the only reason it is. It's just stupid.

"We don't need the fighting. To me, fighting, in most cases, results when one team is well ahead of the other, so what they're saying is 'You're better athletes, so we're going to see if we can just beat on you.' I just get annoyed when I hear these guys say it's part of the game."

The relationship between scrapping and skating has been a hot-button topic of late, especially since Whitby Dunlops defenceman Don Sanderson died Jan. 2 as a result of a head injury he suffered three weeks earlier in a fight in a senior game. Sanderson's helmet was knocked off during the bout, and he fell into a coma after banging his unprotected head on the ice.

The Ontario Hockey League stoked the debate Wednesday when it announced any player who removes his helmet prior to a tilt will be handed a game misconduct and one-game suspension, and that officials will be instructed to intervene as soon as one of the combatants loses his bucket.

The Alberta Junior Hockey League has officially frowned upon flipping lids prior to a fight for many years. If a player does undo his own helmet, the penalty is a gross misconduct and at least a one-game suspension.

"I think safety has to be the No.-1 concern, whether it's the Alberta Junior Hockey League or the Ontario Hockey League or the Western Hockey League," said AJHL commissioner Craig Cripps. "It's a step that should've been taken a long time ago, in my opinion."

As Jeff Peters pointed out, Alberta's junior 'A' loop is grooming prospective NCAA athletes, and fighting isn't allowed in the American college ranks. But the Calgary Royals rookie head coach figures there's a place in the game for players to defend their teammates or for two willing combatants to drop the mitts.

"I don't think fighting is going anywhere," Peters said. "It's unfortunate what happened out east, but how many fights are there every season in every league in North America? And how many deaths have there been because of it?"


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