The Quebec Major Junior Hockey League won't ban fighting outright for the 2008-09 season that commences Thursday but will aim to crack down on brawling, the league president announced Wednesday.
The league will enforce 31 recommendations for stiffer penalties for brawling that were put forth by a committee hired this spring to examine hockey violence.
"We won't accept anything that's not part of the game of hockey," QMJHL president Gilles Courteau said at a news conference. "We're working to change the culture of the game. We don't want to see any more bad situations in hockey.
"The committee looked at all situations, including the fighting aspect. We're not here to focus on the fighting aspect only. We've put rules in place to be more severe for situations that could happen following a fight."
The committee was formed in May on the urging of Quebec Sports Minister Michelle Courchesne following an incident involving Quebec Remparts goaltender Jonathan Roy, son of former NHL netminder and then Remparts coach Patrick Roy.
Players facing charges
Jonathan Roy, who was suspended seven games and charged with one count of assault, is scheduled to appear in court Sept. 16. He faces a fine of up to $2,000 and six months in prison following an attack on Chicoutimi Sagueneens goalie Bobby Nadeau that sparked a major debate in Canada on fighting in junior hockey.
In the March playoff game, a brawl involving 10 skaters on the ice ensued. Roy is accused of charging centre ice in Nadeau's direction in an apparent challenge. Nadeau offered no resistence and was pummelled repeatedly after having his mask ripped off, it has been reported.
A similiar act by a QMJHL goalie this year will result in a 10-game suspension.
Among the other recommendations:
- A player who is an aggressor in a fight can be suspended up to 15 games at the discretion of the league's disciplinarian Raymond Bolduc.
- A player fighting a second time during the same pause in a game is assessed an automatic five-game suspension.
- Players who instigate fights during pre-game warmup will receive 10-game suspensions.
- A player fighting a goaltender will serve a five-game suspension.
'We are serious'
Courteau was repeatedly asked during the news conference why the league did not ban fighting.
"The sanctions are very dissuasive to any act of free violence, and I'm sure that parents, players and everybody who is associated with the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League will realize we are serious," Courteau said. "We don't want to see any more bad things happen in our league."
Courteau defines an aggressor as a player who attacks another player who doesn't want to fight, while an instigator is someone who initiates a fight with another who is willing to engage him.
"When a player is an aggressor, the one-game suspension won't be in place any more," he said.
The coach's role in his players' infractions will be considered by Bolduc and the coach may be suspended if other suspensions accumulate.
Fines up to $5,000
Organizations will be fined between $500 and $5,000 when a player or coach is suspended.
How much fighting in hockey draws people to the game continues to be a thorny issue. Courteau pointed out that incidents in the league have decreased over the past few years, while attendance is rising.
"I don't think the majority of those people came to the buildings to see a fight happen," Courteau said.
The QMJHL's 40th season kicks off with the defending champion Gatineau Olympiques hosting the Victoriaville Tigres.