CHL commissioner predicts the end of fighting in junior hockey

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The Hotstove panel touched on this story last night on Hockey Night in Canada. Published in the National Post, it’s the story of Windsor Spitfires forward Ty Bilcke, a 17-year-old with the goal of fighting at least 30 times this season. Combined with the New York Times’ profile of Derek Boogaard’s tragic life, it has a lot of people talking about the need for fighting in junior hockey.

Isn’t Bilcke worried he’ll end up like Boogaard?

“Does it worry me? Yeah, it does in a sense,” Bilcke told the Post. “But it also doesn’t. I’m scared of getting hit too many times, obviously. Would I do it in the NHL and take a couple of blows? For sure. I’ve been telling my dad ever since I was three years old that I want to play in the NHL and I’d play in the NHL any way possible.”

Canadian Hockey League president David Branch suggests that junior players dropping the gloves is getting closer to becoming a thing of the past.

“There’s such a changing attitude,” said Branch. “If you had brought that up 20 years ago, [team owners and general managers] would have shook their heads. Now, there’s more and more people saying, ‘How can we get there?’ And it’s coming.”

Branch acknowledges that fighting sells tickets to certain fans, but he thinks it’s getting to the point where fighting will stop more fans from attending games than those it draws in.

“Do I think there’s a segment of fans out there that like fighting? Yes,” he said. “But I do feel that the numbers of fans that don’t see it as a need or a want are growing. I don’t think our game requires that as a need to sell the game.

“You look at the Memorial Cup; there’s no fights. You look at the world junior championships; you don’t have any fighting there. And I really believe attitudes have been changing and continue to change and there’s a steady, natural evolution away from it. The time will come where it will be deemed to be totally unacceptable and that will reduce it further.”

Junior hockey, of course, is comprised mostly of teenagers, making fighting harder for fans to condone. Moreover, based on my experiences watching the Vancouver Giants (WHL), I’d wager junior games (far more affordable compared to the NHL) have a higher share of young kids in the seats than high-priced NHL games. And while the kids love the fights, do their parents love that their kids are watching?

Photo: Windsor Star