The QMJHL will tighten rules around fighting. They've heard few objections

Thomas Ethier, left, and Jordan Lepage fight during a QMJHL game in 2018. (Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images - image credit)
Thomas Ethier, left, and Jordan Lepage fight during a QMJHL game in 2018. (Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images - image credit)

If the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League expected backlash for its decision to effectively ban fighting, it's not getting any.

Maxime Blouin, a spokesperson for the league, said general managers and coaches have been understanding of the decision.

"Some of them are actually former high-level hockey players," Blouin said Saturday. "They understand the impact of injuries during their time in hockey, but [also] after their hockey career.

"Players who got 15-20 concussions, they understand the impact of it on their daily life. So, the mentalities are evolving, the sport is evolving, and I think it's evolving toward a safer environment."

The decision to ban fighting came last month after QMJHL owners voted to add a new rule to its rulebook "which specifies black-and-white that fighting is forbidden in our league."

The ban is expected to take effect in June, ahead of the 2023-24 season.

The QMJHL has been working toward banning fighting since 2020, when Isabelle Charest, the minister responsible for sport in Quebec, called for it.

At the time, the league announced a stiffer penalty for fighting, adding a 10-minute misconduct to the five-minute major.

Ritchie Thibeau, the general manager of the Moncton Wildcats, said these rules have eliminated most fights already and an official ban won't make much of a difference.

"I don't foresee it changing the game for us in Moncton here in the way we play, and the way in the league, because [fighting has] pretty well been eradicated," Thibeau said Sunday.

Blouin said the penalty for fighting once the ban is in place is still being worked out, but "we are leaning toward more severe sanctions."

Fighting is still permitted in the National Hockey League. The Ontario Hockey League and the Western Hockey League, Canada's other two major junior leagues, have stated they aren't planning to change their rules around fighting.

But Blouin said it's possible that others could follow the QMJHL's lead.

"We usually try to test new things in our league and then if it works, the other leagues will move along and follow us," he said.

Culture shift

Blouin said the goal of the ban is to protect the players, who can be as young as 16, and help them develop their skills in a safe environment.

The culture is already moving in that direction, he said, as there is no fighting in most games.

"I think everyone understands that hockey is not about fighting," he said. "If you want to fight, you go boxing, you go MMA.

"Hockey is about skills, it's about speed, it's about abilities today, so, I don't think fighting is something that we should see as the centre of our game."

In a statement to CBC News, a spokesperson for the Halifax Mooseheads said "we will continue to support the league in their decisions and will adjust as the game evolves."

The Cape Breton Eagles declined to comment.

The three other Maritime teams — the Charlottetown Islanders, the Saint John Sea Dogs and the Acadie-Bathurst Titan — did not respond in time for publication.