Why the Islanders’ top fighters believe hockey needs to be fought

WASHINGTON — If you believe in the domino theory, you probably raised your eyebrows a few weeks ago when news broke that the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League will ban fighting starting next season.

Details of how the ban will work and what penalties will be imposed on players violating the new rule remain unclear, and Canada’s other two major junior leagues, the Ontario and Western Hockey Leagues, have not announced similar crackdowns. But a few facts:

• As of 2016, the AHL introduced an automatic one-game ban for any player who fights 10 or more majors in a season.

• Since 2016, the OHL has banned players for two games for every fight after their third in a season.

• The QMJHL’s ban is reportedly part of a political deal with the Quebec government, which has effectively bailed out franchises during the COVID-19 pandemic on the expectation that the league would crack down on struggles.

• According to HockeyFights.com, the number of fights per NHL game has fallen from a post-lockout high of 0.60 in 2008-09 to just 0.19 in 2018-19.

Two players on the ice during a Quebec Major Junior Hockey League game.
The Quebec Major Junior Hockey League announced a fight ban.
Getty Images

In short, there is a clear and obvious direction to go at all levels of the game. We’re nowhere near a fight ban in the NHL, but slowly but surely this element of the game is being reduced and phased out.

And for Ross Johnston, that’s an alarming reality.

“What the Q is doing I don’t agree with at all,” Johnston, who has fought 25 times with the Moncton Wildcats, Victoriaville Tigers and Charlottetown Islanders during his QMJHL career, told Sports+. “I think the way they’ve approached it, they’ve limited the game to people who can only play one skill position. For guys, whether it’s taking penalties, playing the game hard, standing up for their teammates, they take that ability away.

“To me, the best camaraderie comes when someone gets into a fight and is willing to go to war for their teammate. For me I don’t really know what the logic is. That’s the great thing about hockey, it monitors itself and will continue to monitor itself. I don’t really understand the logic of Q. Again, I disagree very, very much with what they are trying to do.

The Islanders have struggled 17 times this season, with Johnston and Matt Martin doing it the most often.

Johnston, who ran in just 16 games, has fought three times and more than once has been included in the lineup specifically for a possible fight.

Ross Johnston meets the Flyers' Nicolas Deslauriers in November this season.
Ross Johnston meets the Flyers’ Nicolas Deslauriers in November this season.

“I think it’s still necessary at this point in terms of: it’s a physical game,” Martin told Sports+. “If there’s absolutely no repercussions for dirty hits or cheap shots or anything on your guys, then I think you’re going to see more and more guys doing that kind of throw [dirty] meets. I think in a way it’s driven by the fact that there are guys who don’t want to fight but don’t get hits because they don’t want to get in that situation.”

Even though the number of fights has decreased, the element of player’s own justice still plays a big role in the NHL. And that’s not the only element players feel would be lost without battles.

“Edge, presence, it’s losing hockey,” Johnston said. “You talk to anyone who has watched the game, past and present, if you see a fight in the stands or see a player standing up for his teammates, everyone is on their feet. Everyone is excited. So not only is it great for the fans, but the players themselves are behind the guy who stands up for his teammate and want to go to war with him.”

It’s true that this is a biased sample of players to talk to about fighting. But in a way, that’s the point. The League is no longer full of people whose only job is enforcers, but that’s an integral part of what Martin and Johnston do for the islanders.

“One of the reasons I’ve been at this for so long is because I’m a physical player and I’m willing to stand up for my teammates,” said Martin.

New York Islanders' Matt Martin battles Toronto Maple Leafs' Noel Acciari.
Experienced Islander pugilist Matt Martin believes that fighting is an important way to avoid dirty hits.
Getty Images

As for potential long-term health effects, players feel that these risks are already built into the game, whether they’re fighting or not.

“The hits and impact are just as bad if not worse than the fighting,” Martin said. “You get into a lot of fights where nothing happens. I also think that when you’re in a fight, you have a lot of those situations under control. Fists come at you. Sometimes when you’re on the ice, two guys cross paths and you have no idea. I think it’s a lot worse on your head if you’re not prepared for it or aware of it or if you can’t adjust to it.”

It’s hard to imagine Martin or Johnson being affected by eventual changes at the NHL level that will be at least a decade away. But it’s just as hard to see players choosing to en masse remove combat from the game at any point.

“If you have no consequences for your actions and your only consequence is a two-minute penalty, you’re back out there doing the same thing, it’s bound to happen more,” Johnston said. “So the whole idea of ​​being present is to make people think twice about taking liberties with your players. If you remove that presence and remove all of those abilities, the game just becomes a bit of a mess.”

On the farm

William Dufour plays for the Bridgeport Islanders.
Top contender William Dufour will benefit from an AHL playoff run.
Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Barely in playoff position, the Bridgeport Islanders are currently one point adrift of Hartford for last place in the Atlantic Division. It would be a positive move for the Islanders to bring in prospects like William Dufour, Arnaud Durandeau and Ruslan Iskhakov in playoff games, although the option of being an ace black for the NHL club’s playoff run is likely for at least one round is available.

Dufour, who has 20 goals and 22 assists for Bridgeport this season, is likely the brightest prospect in the organization after Aatu Raty was traded and Simon Holmstrom established himself as part of the NHL roster. Dufour, 21, made his NHL debut against the Bruins in December, but tonight he more or less proved that he still needs to develop before he can contribute at this level. Playoff hockey, even in the AHL, would be a good experience for him.

The interesting test case will be 22-year-old defenseman Samuel Bolduc, who arguably has done enough to be on the playoff list if the Isles deem that a more valuable experience than an AHL playoff run.

However, if Sebastian Aho is back in time for the postseason, it’s hard to imagine Bolduc displacing him in the lineup, at least based on what we’ve seen so far.

https://nypost.com/2023/03/30/why-islanders-top-fighters-think-hockey-needs-fighting/ Why the Islanders’ top fighters believe hockey needs to be fought

Tom Vazquez

Tom Vazquez is a USTimeToday U.S. News Reporter based in London. His focus is on U.S. politics and the environment. He has covered climate change extensively, as well as healthcare and crime. Tom Vazquez joined USTimeToday in 2023 from the Daily Express and previously worked for Chemist and Druggist and the Jewish Chronicle. He is a graduate of Cambridge University. Languages: English. You can get in touch with Tom Vazquez by emailing tomvazquez@ustimetoday.com.

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