• Tyler Bertuzzi And The Ten Fight Rule

    by  • September 23, 2012 • Hockey • 14 Comments

    Tyler Bertuzzi was born on February 24, 1995. He played his first season in the OHL last year, fighting four times in his first four games, five in his first six games and 14 times before he turned 17 on February 24, 2012. He is, I think it’s fair to say, the kind of player who hits dirty and late and cheap. He spent a healthy part of the 2011-12 season getting beaten up as a result.

    In both of those fights, the other guy kept punching Bertuzzi past the point at which it’s generally considered appropriate to do so. When you look at the hits that preceded those fights, it becomes clear why. In the first hit, Bertuzzi’s at the bottom of the circle when it becomes clear the defenceman is going to turn; he proceeds to hit from behind and drive his head into the glass anyway. In the second hit, Bertuzzi is 20+ feet away from the defenceman when he releases the puck but he proceeds to blindside him in a dangerous position relative to the boards. I’m no expert on the minds of teenage boys but I’ve played some hockey and those hits are going to make most teams go bananas.

    Bertuzzi ended up putting up 117 PIM last year. The breakdown is as follows:

    15 – Fighting majors
    4 – Head check
    2 – Check from behind
    4 – Slash
    Rough
    7 – Rough (coincidental)
    Holding
    Goalie interference
    Tripping
    10 minute misconduct

    So that’s 6 PIM that arise out of the actual playing of hockey and 111 PIM related to hitting guys from behind, hitting them in the head, slashing them, fighting, posturing after the whistle and generally behaving in an unsportsmanlike fashion. In an interview with the Sudbury Star, he talked about this a little bit:

    Bertuzzi didn’t go looking for fights, but his style of play made it a necessity.

    “After a big hit, they don’t like it and come and fight,” he said. “Most my fights were like that, from hitting guys. But that’s part of the game.”

    Bertuzzi ended up scoring 17 points for the season, narrowly beating the number of fights that he had. He probably would have easily had more fights than points, but for a reduction in the frequency of his fights in the second half of the season. He explained to the Sudbury Star:

    After establishing himself in the first half of the season, Bertuzzi made a conscious decision to slow down the fighting in the second half of the season, only dropping the mitts four times, to concentrate more on hockey.

    “I slowed down because I wanted to play a bit more and show my skill more,” said the nephew of former Storm standout and longtime NHLer Todd Bertuzzi. “At the end (of the season), I was on the third line and on the penalty kill and got even more confidence, so I decided to slow down on fighting and concentrate on playing. I’ll drop them when I have to and fighting did serve a purpose.”

    He also suffered a mild concussion mid way through the season and that played a part in the decision to fight less.

    “I’m good now,” he said. “It had a little bit of impact on my fighting because I didn’t want to have two (concussions) in a year. But mostly it was because if you’re fighting you are in the box for five minutes and you can’t play.”

    He doesn’t say precisely when he was concussed but if you go through the games that he missed, you find that he missed three games in a row on February 3, 5 and 7, 2012. He had only two fights after that date; he had three fights each in January and December. It’d be interesting to know what the cause of the concussion – he had a fight on January 28, 2012 against a guy named Holden Cook. It sounds like a pretty wild fight, although the video of it is pretty poor:

    You’ll notice that, before the camera guy gets the camera on the fight, the announcer says “Cook knocks Bertuzzi’s mouthguard out.” At the 13 second mark in that video, Bertuzzi looks to get smoked in the face, which leads the colour guy to say “Knees buckling in this one.” Bertuzzi maybe looks a little wobbly skating off the ice; tough to say.

    Was this fight the cause of Bertuzzi’s concussion? He played the next game before sitting out for three, which is proof of exactly nothing given hockey’s historically poor treatment of concussions. At the very least, you wonder. I’ve asked him on Twitter; we’ll see if he says anything.

    What’s my point? Well it’s in my usual vein when it comes to junior hockey: if you look to closely at it, you (should) start to feel a little dirty. Bertuzzi’s story last year appears to be one of small guy goes to junior camp, desperate to make team. He proceeds to hit everything that moves without much worry about whether the hits are safe or marginal. The coach – who made a career from being a small guy who hit everything that moved – loves him and he makes the team. The price of throwing these marginal hits is fighting much larger mammals, which he does with great frequency, albeit not a great deal of effectiveness.

    You’ll notice that I made a big deal out of Bertuzzi’s age at the start of this piece. He was 16 for most of the season. I was flipping through the regulations for boxing and MMA in Ontario and came across this:

    7. No person who is seventeen years of age or under shall take part in a professional contest or exhibition except with the approval of the Commissioner.

    The American Academy of Pediatrics and the Canadian Paediatric Society have suggested that boxing be banned for people below the age of 18. Other medical groups would like to see it banned entirely.

    The law banning professional fighting in Ontario for people under the age of 17 is presumably intended to protect young people, whose brains are uniquely susceptible to the impact of concussions and who won’t necessarily have the capacity to understand the risks that they’re undertaking, from themselves. It is, I assume, akin to the reason that we stop teenagers from buying cigarettes or beer. Getting punched in the head, like smoking or drinking, can have significant consequences and we don’t trust people under the age of 17 to make those decisions when provided with a financial incentive.

    It’s impossible for me to see how Bertuzzi’s presence in junior hockey last year was anything other than exactly that which we try to ban with our laws against people under the age of 17 fighting professionally. Bertuzzi is being compensated (although probably not well enough) for playing for the Guelph Storm. He has the possibility of future NHL dollars motivating him as well. He’ll do anything to make the team – in his case, “anything” includes hitting people in the head or hitting them from behind, exposing them to risk that isn’t supposed to be part of hockey. (If Bertuzzi is unclear on this principle, his uncle may be able to explain it to him in some detail.) As a result of this, he ends up fighting 15 times and (possibly) suffers a concussion along the way. He wins the Guelph Storm Fan Favourite Award for his efforts.

    The OHL’s response to this sort of thing is to announce suspensions for people who fight more than ten times. The law, for some reason, does nothing. Guelph sold tickets last year to people eager to watch a 16 year old fight. If he was fighting in a cage or fighting in a boxing ring, one fight would be illegal. Just add ice though, and everything’s ok. Try and keep it under ten a year? Maybe?

    Junior hockey is a pretty sick sport. This is just another example of that. People who buy tickets to watch their favourite 16 year old boy fight 18, 19 and 20 year old guys are sick. It’s weird that the part of society that doesn’t suffer from this sickness is somehow willing to tolerate it, when it acts sort of sensibly in limiting the rights of minors to fight for money elsewhere. Hockey cures all sins, I guess. And renders irrelevant medical data.

    Email Tyler Dellow at tyler@mc79hockey.com

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    14 Responses to Tyler Bertuzzi And The Ten Fight Rule

    1. Tach
      September 23, 2012 at

      Well, all of that, but as long as he doesn’t ask to get paid commensurate to the value he might bring some owner. That would be greedy.

      But I might have given him half a pass on the first hit, that guy turned.

      • Tyler Dellow
        September 23, 2012 at

        He had time not to drill him in the back and, regardless, didn’t need to hit him in the head.

    2. Vic
      September 23, 2012 at

      Problem is the rules aren’t a top down affect. When an avenue of making it to the NHL, as a fighter or someone willing to fight, exists players are going to try to get noticed in order to increase their chances. When NHL teams are willing to draft a player like Darren Kramer, who fought 46 times the year he got drafted, and sign him, players who aren’t skilled enough will figure I can do that too. When a player like Krys Barch, who was a decent skilled junior player, takes a year off to train and come back as a fighter in order to make it to the NHL, and makes it, players will want to emulate them. When it’s easier, and quicker, for a guy who fights to make the jump from ECHL to AHL to NHL, than it is for a skilled guy, players will turn to that route. I can cite more names and examples of players (Luke Gazdic, Derek Mathers, etc.) who predominantly fight who have been drafted and signed by NHL teams.
      There will eventually be no, or little, fighting in the OHL, fighting has been on the decrease for years now, line brawls are rare and a thing of the past. But really until rules at the NHL level are curtailed, players who aspire to make it to the NHL, and who just aren’t talented enough to make it through skill, will continue to fight in order to get noticed in order to get their pay day.

    3. Vic
      September 23, 2012 at

      Cam Janssen, Kelsey Wilson, Richard Greenop, Jared Boll, Devin Didiomete, Theo Peckham, Kyle Neuber, Lane MacDermid, etc. I’m sure they all want to be the next Milan Lucic, but not many can pull it off.

      That’s a small sampling from the last few years from a “soft” league. The numbers grow when you count the guys who got minor pro deals. Just imagine what the numbers are from the “tougher” WHL.

      Really though it wasn’t until Darren Kramer went wild the one year with 46 fights and got drafted that players figured it’s a strategy. Call it the Ty Bilcke rule. Look up the article on him from the National Post.

    4. Triumph
      September 23, 2012 at

      My problem with the rule is that suspensions begin at 10, but team fines begin at 15. It should be the other way around – teams who employ this sort of player, who recklessly engages opponents both in body checks and fights, should be punished. The player is just ‘doing what he’s told’ by coaches and management. And that’s not even getting into the whole head injury issue, but is an iteration of same – young people fundamentally don’t understand long-term health risks.

    5. Doogie2K
      September 23, 2012 at

      How do these suspensions work, anyway? I remember hearing they were looking for increasing suspensions with each fight after ten, making anything more than 15 not only prohibitive financially, but outright impossible.

    6. September 23, 2012 at

      I agree with Vic above – until the NHL changes their culture of tolerating fighting there will always be a junior hockey player who thinks dropping the gloves is their ticket to become a professional. I think that will eventually happen but it will be a slow evolution.

      There were reports that the NHL has been monitoring and discussing rule changes with the various junior leagues. If they were going to adopt some new rules they should look at the USHL approach – discussed on my blog here http://itsnotpartofthegame.blogspot.ca/2012/09/junior-hockey-shows-leadership.html. Basically they classify certain minor penalties as dangerous and track players who incur them, along with major penalties including fighting. With that type of system a player like Bertuzzi would have shown up on the radar quickly and the league would call him in for a discussion. That’s the type of disciplinary process the NHL should look at.

      • September 23, 2012 at

        I’d say the issue isn’t that the NHL merely tolerates fighting – the culture in hockey actively condones and celebrates violence. I noted this a couple of years ago after the infamous Patrice Cormier hit: The tacit appreciation apparent in Marek’s reported statement (and this no attack on him. I’m sure he’s stating a fact) reinforces the notion that taking your opponents health and safety for granted – check that, grossly and purposely putting it in peril – is okay. Hell, it’s better than being a pussy, right?

      • Triumph
        September 24, 2012 at

        By the same token, I’ve never quite understood putting a guy’s career in jeopardy by boarding him and tugging on his leg with one’s stick often draw the same penalty.

    7. Cam Charron
      September 24, 2012 at
    8. September 24, 2012 at

      Problem: dirtbag player plays dirtbag hockey like dirtbag, gets punched in face because he is dirtbag, possibly suffers concussion because he was punched in face for being a dirtbag because he is a dirtbag.

      Solution: ban fighting? Being a dirtbag generally acceptable; getting punched in the face not?

    9. Silver
      September 24, 2012 at

      The best part of this: Player fights his way into the NHL, and then gets locked out the next time the CBA expires, fans will berate him for being a meathead stupid hockey player.

      Player doesn’t make the NHL, and ends up delivering pizza? Lol, stupid hockey player! Should have been in school instead of acting like a fighting dog for the amusement of adults with productive jobs.

    10. Darrel
      September 25, 2012 at

      Tyler,
      Long-time reader of this very well written blog. I am an older guy (late 40′s) and this reminds me of a guy I played rec hockey with in my early 20′s. he went to camp (WHL) as a 16 year old and because he was a big farm boy type, he ended up being challenged 2 or 3 times every day of camp… he did alright up against experienced goons who were much older (he survived). By the second week or so he wouldn’t leave his hotel room, was in complete shock and ended his hockey career. Now as a dad with boys this story really hits hard, I am glad my guys aren’t experiencing the “love” of this game!

    11. Bubba
      September 27, 2012 at

      I know the Announcer in the third video says that Bertuzzi has his mouthguard knocked out but doesnt it look like he pulls a yellow mouthguard out right after they are broken up.

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