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Tie Domi concerned about lack of NHL enforcers

Former NHL player Tie Domi is concerned by the lack of accountability on the ice with enforcers essentially eliminated from today's game.

Fighting, enforcer role all but eliminated from today's game

Former Toronto Maple Leafs enforcer Tie Domi, left, fights Jay Pandolfo of the New Jersey Devils in 2006. The opportunities have dwindled for enforcers in the current NHL game -- a faster, leaner and far less gap-toothed era. (Kevin Frayer/The Associated Press)

Tie Domi is no different than any proud hockey father when it comes to worrying about his son.

Having spent 16 seasons establishing a reputation for being one of the NHL's fiercest enforcers, Domi fully appreciates the importance of protecting a team's marquee players. What concerns him is who has the back of his 21-year-old son, budding Arizona star Max Domi, at a time when the league has all but eliminated the role of on-ice policeman?

"Obviously, I don't agree with it, especially having a kid in the NHL now and watching the so-called accountability factor," Tie Domi said during the NHL's Centennial Classic celebrations in Toronto last weekend. "We used to make people accountable. It's definitely a different taste for sure."

A sour one, too, after Domi's fears were realized last month when his son broke his hand in a fight with Calgary's Garnet Hathaway.

"It's a learning lesson for him," the elder Domi said. "Unfortunately, he has a little bit of me in him."

With the exception of alumni games and "Slap Shot " movie reunions, where the Hanson Brothers will live into infinity, it's taken just one generation — from Tie to Max Domi, for example — to usher in the end of the tough guy in what's become a faster, leaner and far less gap-toothed era. The evidence was apparent in the alumni who took the ice in Toronto last weekend: The game featured five of the NHL's top 20 career penalty-minutes leaders, including all-time leader Dave "Tiger" Williams (3,966 penalty minutes) and Tie Domi, who ranks third (3,515).

"How many is there?" cracked Williams, wearing a cowboy hat and big silver belt buckle, when informed the game appeared to be a reunion of aging enforcers. "Well, good. They all showed up."

Former Toronto star Wendel Clark smiled when asked if he'd consider taking a run at ex-Red Wings player and current Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan.

"Oh, I don't know. We've never hit a president before," Clark said. "We've never gone that high up the ladder."

Game has become 'buddy-buddy'

How quickly hockey has changed wasn't lost on former Red Wings enforcer Darren McCarty.

"The game is where it's buddy-buddy now," McCarty said. "The only talking over the red line back then is where you were [taunting] a guy or you're setting up a fight because you say, 'I'm coming.' It was never pleasantries."

McCarty joked he would have never had a chance to play today.

"It's a different game. You've got to understand it's a college, European-style game," he said. "I guarantee you, if I grew up and had to play this game, I would be learning how to hit that curveball, because that's what kept me out of baseball."

The elimination of the enforcer has been based on a series of rule changes. It began with the NHL in 1992 adding a game misconduct for players who start fights. That led to what was called "show fighting," where both players would agree to square off so neither would be considered the instigator.

Emphasis on player safety

The NHL cracked down further on fighting to protect itself and its players from growing concerns over concussions, and the debilitating toll of repeated punches to the head. Rules freeing up the game from clutching-and-grabbing styles of defence also placed a premium on faster, more skilled players, and further reduced the need for plodding fighters.

A comparison of penalty minutes numbers alone reflects how drastic the change has been.

Through Thursday, Dallas Stars forward Antoine Roussel led the NHL with 87 penalty minutes in 35 games. Three months into the 1996-97 season, Vancouver's Gino Odjick had a league-leading 214 penalty minutes. Roussel's current total would have been tied for 33rd with Anaheim's Ken Baumgartner 20 years ago.

Clark has no trouble with hockey's evolution.

"Basically, it's whatever society thinks they want to see. That's it. Society judges all of us," said Clark, who scored 330 goals and racked up 1,690 penalty minutes during a 15-year career.

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