Hockey fights are Canada’s other national sport – except in CIS
It has been called part of the game, is considered an exciting aspect of hockey, and has been proven to draw a larger audience, but not everyone feels that fighting deserves a place inside a Canadian Interuniversity Sport rink.
The CIS men’s ice hockey playing regulations state that in the event of a fight the “instigator of, or aggressor in a fight [receives] a one-game additional suspension along with the one-game suspension for fighting (a total of two games). A player involved in a fight against an instigator (where an instigator penalty is called) – would be ejected from the game, but would not be suspended for the following game(s).”
Whether the rules against fighting in CIS hockey are fair, and if they should be changed, has often come up for debate. Many fans will argue that fighting is part of the game; kids are taught to fight in hockey from the time they are around 13 years old, and every surrounding league to the CIS has fighting allowed with no suspensions.
Although adding fighting to CIS hockey could make the game more exciting and attract more fans with the simple prospect of two players being able to duke it out at any moment, other people, such as CIS communications manager Michel Belanger, feel otherwise.
“There’s no place for fighting in university hockey,” Belanger said. “I like our current rule. If anything, I think the automatic suspensions should be even longer.”
Due to the relatively strict rules against fighting at the university level, Belanger has one simple view in regards to players engaging in on-ice tilts: “Fighting is not allowed in CIS hockey.”
However, Bill Seymour, the Canada West men’s hockey convenor, has a different take on fighting at the CIS level.
“In Canada West [and] CIS hockey, fighting is not really against the rules; it does happen,” Seymour stated. “The differences between say junior or the pros is that in [CIS] hockey, the two combatants are automatically kicked out of that game, plus they receive an automatic one-game suspension. Because of our relatively short season, players do not like to be suspended, so there is a tendency not to fight.”
In surrounding leagues, teams often have one or two members on their roster whose only job is to fight. These players often become known as enforcers, who stick up for their teammates, in particular smaller goal-scoring players who the team cannot risk getting hurt. In a sense, these players are on the roster to fight other teammates’ battles.
While there may not be any distinctive enforcers on CIS rosters, Seymore believes some players are much more likely to fight than others.
“The veteran players seldom fight because they know the consequences and do not want to miss any games. Also, the extra [and] fringe players do not fight because they know or at least think they will be benched as they are already suspended,” Seymore said. “We also have the instigator rule, where both are kicked out of that game but the instigator, or the guy who starts a fight, can be assessed an instigator penalty, which is an automatic two-game suspension, while the guy who was attacked or was just defending himself is not suspended.”
Although some hockey players may be more inclined to fight than others, Belanger still believes fights are extremely rare in CIS men’s hockey action.
“While there are a few – very few – fights every year in CIS hockey, I’ve never witnessed one myself in my 10 or so years of attending games,” he said.
It is interesting that Belanger claims to never have seen a fight firsthand, as Seymore has a different take on how many fights actually occur on the ice during the university hockey season.
“I can’t speak for the other CIS leagues, but our Canada West league averages five to six fights per year in 196 games; last year we had five fights,” Seymore said. “In my time, the worst year was 1998-99 [where there was] 17 fights. So far this year, in 32 games, no fights.”
Seymore has noticed that making the adjustment to the CIS game of hockey can be difficult for some players, especially for those who are used to fighting numerous times a year.
“Another point is you will often see players who might have fought a lot in their junior or pro leagues now come on to Canada West hockey and not have any fights,” he explained. “I have heard them say that they really enjoy the chance to just go out and play the game for the game’s sake without having to worry or think about fighting.”
Seymore agrees with Belanger that the fighting rule in CIS hockey does not need to be changed. However, Seymore does not feel that fighting needs to be removed from the game entirely or that increasingly harsh suspensions should be imposed.
“Right now, I like our rule the way it is,” Seymore said. “Every once in a while two guys will go at it and I am OK with that. The coaches and players all know our rules and live with the consequences. If we were to see an increase in fighting, we would probably have to rethink our rules, but right now I’m OK with the way it is.”
Belanger may have a slightly different view on fighting in hockey at the CIS level than Seymore does, but both agree that university hockey is special.
“I think CIS hockey has proven over the years that you can have a high-caliber product that doesn’t include fighting,” Belanger said.
With or without fighting, Seymore believes that more people need to realize what Canadian university hockey has to offer. According to him, there is nothing else like it.
“[CIS hockey] is the best kept hockey secret in Canada.”