Time to Stop the Fighting in USHL Games
These have been the best of times for the Sioux Falls Stampede.
The Herd finished the regular season with a franchise best 45-17-2 record, and a season best 92 points. Sioux Falls has home ice advantage in their opening round playoff series with Lincoln.
The club also saw seven of its former players take part in the NCAA Frozen Four, and a trio of former players sign with NHL teams this month (Matt Lindblad - Bruins, Joho Olkinuora - Jets, Eric Hartzell - Penguins).
But amidst all of that positive, there is one huge black eye (literally and figuratively) heading into the post season.
Last Friday night against Des Moines at the Sioux Falls Arena, a series of fights late in the game resulted in 30 penalties, 96 penalty minutes, and, at one point, put 15 players in the penalty boxes.
That ugly scene, and others like it in the United States Hockey League over the years, are unacceptable for one important reason: the ages of the participants.
Teenage players come from all over the world to Sioux Falls, and other USHL cities, for one main reason: to try and earn a college scholarship, where they can continue their careers in the hopes of playing professionally someday. You may think of it as a minor league sport, but in reality, it's being played by high school aged players.
Can anyone name another high school sport where fighting is allowed? There isn't one.
If these kids engaged in this type of behavior anywhere other than a hockey rink, they'd be arrested.
The ultimate irony here? As the vast majority of USHL players groom their game for a shot at college hockey, the NCAA has some of the toughest anti-fighting rules anywhere - a game disqualification for fighting, and an additional one game suspension. That suspension grows based on the number of game disqualifications a player has during a season.
I don't remember hearing a lot of people complaining that college hockey is missing something without the fighting. Why isn't the USHL playing by NCAA rules? Wouldn't that make the most sense considering that's the next stop for most of these players?
Even the Olympics, which these days feature a majority of NHL players, ban fighting.
But, there does seem to be a little common sense creeping through.
This season, the new Ontario Hockey League began a new experiment, limiting a player to ten fights during the season, before the league steps in:
If a player fights an 11th time, he will earn a two-game suspension. Another two-game suspension will apply for Fights No. 12, 13, 14, and 15. Starting with the 16th fight, his team also will be fined $1,000 for each scrap. If referees designate a player the instigator in any fight above the 10-game threshold, he will be suspended for four games.
The fact that the rules still allow each player ten fights is obviously still too many, but it's a baby step in the right direction.
USHL Hockey is a great, fast paced, energetic game, played by very talented kids. Let the professionals beat each others brains in.