Prior to the beginning of the 2013-14 NHL season the league instituted a revision of Rule 46.6 which pertains to fighting. When the puck dropped to usher in the new year, a two-minute minor penalty became mandatory for any player who removed his helmet during an altercation. Of course, the players who enjoy fisticuffs did not entirely oblige, thus, there have been many cases of NHLers willingly removing their helmets before engaging in one-on-one combat.
A preseason fight between Brett Gallant of the New York Islanders and Krys Barch of the New Jersey Devils featured a way around the two-minute minor. Each fighter removed the other’s helmet in an attempt to not incur penalty. The refs didn’t bite, assessing unsportsmanlike misconducts to both players for their actions.
Fighting in hockey has become as controversial a topic you’re going to find in professional sports today. The fear of a player dying on the ice is more prevalent since the unfortunate passing of Ontario Hockey League defenceman Don Sanderson. In a fight, the twenty-one year old kinesiology student at York University in Toronto fell to the ice without his helmet on. Sanderson slipped into a coma and succumbed to his injuries on January 2nd, 2009.
The last thing the National Hockey League wants is for one of its own players to pass away because of an injury suffered on NHL ice. Although not a common occurrence, the possibility of a fight resulting in death is real and terrifying. For that reason, and others, including non-immediate life threatening head injuries, the league is actively trying to prevent players from cracking their heads on the ice. According to Darren Dreger of TSN‘s The Dreger Report, NHL referees have been instructed to go one step further while enforcing Rule 46.6. Moving forward, when two NHL players decide to remove their helmets for a fight the refs will, if capable at the moment, move in and immediately break up the violence. Read Dreger’s article entitled “Dreger Report: With Helmets Off, Linesmen Step In Before Fight.”
In last evening’s Bell Centre showdown between the Montreal Canadiens and Edmonton Oilers, linesmen jumped in immediately upon seeing first signs that Habs’ Travis Moen and Oilers’ Luke Gazdic were about to remove their helmets before fighting. The refs used discretion, and the fight never materialized.
Whether a complete ban on fighting will occur in the near future is undetermined at this point, however, it is very obvious the NHL does not want its players cracking their heads on the ice. Smart call because a player death due to fighting would be devastating for all involved.