DORVAL, Que. — Fighting still is permitted in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, at least for the time being.
Unable to reach a consensus at their assembly of members on Thursday, QMJHL team representatives have delayed the decision on whether to change fighting rules until August.
Any proposed rule change needs the support of two thirds of the league’s members — 12 of 18 teams — to pass.
“Whether we ban fighting outright or simply impose stricter penalties for fighting, those were the elements that made our debate very nuanced today,” said QMJHL commissioner Gilles Courteau. “It’s been a long time since we’ve had a discussion like that.
“This is a very sensitive matter. Everyone wants to understand it to the fullest. This is not a debate we’re taking lightly. We have to reach a decision at some point, for sure.”
The next meeting of team owners, presidents and general managers is scheduled for June. The following meeting is in August, ahead of the league’s 2020-21 season opener. That’s when the vote is expected to take place.
The delay is due to the intricacies of the file and dissenting opinions around the table, said Courteau. He also added that some members expressed concern about implementing rules that didn’t exist elsewhere in Canada.
The QMJHL could become the first Canadian major-junior league to ban fighting outright. The Western Hockey League and Ontario Hockey League have not banned fighting, though the OHL added mandatory suspensions for reaching a certain level of fights in a season in 2016.
Development leagues outside Canada, like the NCAA in the United States and leagues in Europe, tend to have stricter penalties for fighting. The International Ice Hockey Federation also has an automatic game misconduct for fighting. An NCAA player called for fighting sits out the rest of the game as well as another full game.
Courteau says the QMJHL’s primary objective is to protect the athletes.
“My main goal is to implement new rules to improve player safety,” said Courteau. “That’s the focal point of this discussion. Whether it’s fighting, blind-side hits, head shots, we’re carefully looking at all of that.”
Added Ronald Thibault, general manager of the Sherbrooke Phoenix: “It may sound strange, but what we’re trying to do is keep our players safe. There are divergent opinions on how to protect players. That’s it.”
The debate amongst QMJHL front offices comes a time when there is increased scrutiny on the dangers of concussions and head injuries, especially with players in their teens.
Fighting has been steadily decreasing in the QMJHL for the past five seasons. The league currently averages one fight every four games.
Jacques Tanguay, president of the Quebec Remparts, is a strong advocate for eliminating fights in hockey altogether. He says he was disappointed with the lack of a vote on Thursday.
“There aren’t a ton of fights anymore,” said Tanguay. “And there are fewer and fewer. My point is that we need to get rid of them completely. It’s as simple as that. There needs to be more sensitization. We need to keep talking and explaining why we want the rules to change.
“I’ve seen a handful of fights in football, for example, but there are sanctions in place when that happens. Basketball, same thing. Those situations will always happen. But you need consequences.”
Outside of fighting, the QMJHL members did reach two conclusions at their meeting: the next season will remain 68 games long and will start two weeks earlier, on Sept. 9.