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QMJHL Clamps Down on Fighting in Exchange for Government Relief Money

On its second try in two weeks, the Quebec League managed to increase its fighting penalties. The payoff? $20 million in pandemic relief from the Quebec government.

Twelve teams in the Quebec League will be adding almost $1.7 million each in free taxpayer money to their bottom lines this season and all it took was their owners tweaking the rules to curb the number of times teenagers get punched in the face. Will those junior hockey operators be passing these riches on to the players to whom they pay poverty wages? Don’t be silly. But at least the players will be marginally safer while they make almost no money.

So much for fighting being such a vital part of the game’s fabric. So much for it being a necessary outlet for all that unbridled emotion that’s being displayed out there. So much for it allowing players to police themselves. Turns out, all it takes for hockey operators to let go of their zeal for fighting is to give them $20 million so they can get through a season during which they’ll be playing in empty arenas.

The QMJHL’s board of governors held a vote on Wednesday, their second in two weeks, in an attempt to curb fighting so that the Quebec government will look favorably on their plea for public money. As a result, starting with the 2020-21 season, which begins with eight games Friday night, players who fight will be hit with a five-minute major penalty and a 10-minute misconduct. (It’s important to note that the misconduct will not start until after the major has been served). Players who accumulate three fights will serve a one-game suspension, with one-game suspensions added for each subsequent fight. Players identified as instigators will receive a two-minute minor.

Both the government and QMJHL president Gilles Courteau hopes this will reduce the number of fights in the league, which had 323 fights last season in the pre-season and regular season. The rules are tied to the subsidy, which education and sports junior minister Isabelle Charest made as a condition for receiving the money. It’s interesting to note that the league floated almost the same proposal to its governors two weeks ago, with the exception of imposing a one-game suspension after five fights, not three. The motion received the support of 10 teams, but needed 12 to pass. There seemed to be some question as to whether or not all the teams were aware when they voted that the results of their vote were tied to the government funding.

“Part of the discussion I had with the sports minister was very clear,” Courteau said. “She said to me, ‘I will never impose anything on the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. ‘The only thing I’m looking for…is to look after the playing rules to reduce the number of concussions and having penalties that are more severe on hits to the head, checking from behind’…and she said, ‘If you look at improving the consequences following fights, that would be good.’ And I gave her my word that I would work on it, which I did.”

And that paves the way for the government to approve the funding. “We’re very satisfied,” said Alice Bergeron, a spokesperson for Charest. “We think that the league showed leadership. Our priority is to protect the young players, so we’re very happy about the decision that has been made. As for financing, this decision will allow us to resume our talks with the league and we should be able to confirm things shortly.”

It will be interesting to see how much the sanctions curb fighting in the future. Tripling the amount of time a player has to spend out of the game after a fight will undoubtedly cause some players to think twice before throwing their gloves off. As far as the suspensions, only 33 players in the league had three or more fights last season, with three players sharing the league lead with seven. Courteau said there was an average of just 0.22 fights per game last season, which means there was approximately one fight in every five games played.

“It’s not a temporary rule,” Courteau said. “It’s not a pilot-project rule. It’s a rule that’s in place, we hope, for a long period of time. And we hope this rule will (curb) fights in the league. I think we’ve done a great job. There’s some room for improvement and we will continue to work on it. And we’re convinced that the adoption of the actual playing rules and consequences following a fight will have a positive impact on fighting.”

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