MONTREAL - The NHL may be trying to cut back on fighting, but enforcers in an unregulated senior league in Quebec are paid a $25 to $100 bonus per fight.
In the Mauricie senior hockey league, fisticuffs are practically the whole show.
The players do battle in an eight-team league with teams between Montreal and Quebec City. The league operates outside Hockey Quebec's regulatory powers.
QMI Agency attended a fight-filled game on Feb. 2 in Saint-Gabriel-Brandon, an hour northeast of Montreal.
The arena was packed, largely with young people.
After a couple of early goals, the real show began when the first pair of players went toe to toe. A 12-year-old kid screamed "smash him in the mouth" as the two combatants pounded away to a chorus of cheers.
A few minutes later, another fight. The crowd rose as two guys dropped gloves and helmets as soon as they hopped over the boards. The pugilists took time to skate to centre ice before trading punches.
In the third period, another fight broke out, then another, and another.
When a fan shouted an ethnic slur at one of the players, an opposing fan jumped out of his seat and charged towards the offender. Several huge security guards broke it up before anyone threw a punch.
The guards were also kept busy when other spectators threatened to jump onto a team's bench.
On average, five fights break out per game. One enforcer told QMI Agency that he and his adversaries fuel up on caffeine pills and energy drinks to get pumped for combat.
Team owners who oppose the fisticuffs are quickly squeezed out of the league.
That was the case for Renaud Langlois, who briefly owned a team in the early 2000s.
He had wanted his squad to be a beacon for young players but quickly realized he couldn't even bring his own children to the games.
"This isn't hockey," he told QMI Agency.
When he discouraged his players from fighting and focused on winning games, fans stayed away.
"We went from 3,000 to 1,500 fans," Langlois said. "For the fans, there was no more show, because there were no more fights."
Referee Pier-Luc Petit summed up life as an official at games he refers to as the "jungle."
"We don't referee senior league matches, we manage them," he said.