Thursday, January 19, 2012

Fighting in the USHL article; USHL commish takes a jab at the Stars

Skip Prince
I ran across an article this morning from my buddy Ryan S. Clark, reporter for "The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead."  Ryan is also author of the "Slightly Chilled" USHL blog.  Even though his primary coverage is the hometown Fargo Force, Ryan does a great job of covering the entire USHL and is a great resource for hockey nerds like myself..

Anyway, Ryan posted this article today in which he tackles the debate on fighting, and if it should be allowed at the USHL level.  The intent of my blog article is not to argue either side.  What I found interesting were a couple of quotes made by USHL commissioner Skip Prince.

First off, there is this gem from Skip (direct quote from the article linked above in blue):

So far, it appears the USHL is doing its best to accomplish the goal. Fighting is down in the USHL this season.

The Lincoln Stars, who led the league with 70 fights last season, have 24 fights this year and are on pace for 48 fights.

“Well, how did they do last year?” Prince asked of the Stars, who were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs. “I don’t think fighting wins you hockey games.”

Really?  This is the commissioner of the USHL stating this?  I thought the Stars lost to the Fargo Force in the playoffs last season because Fargo was simply the better team.  Also add in the fact that both games were in Fargo's barn.  But no, I guess the real reason the season ended for Lincoln the way it did was because they led the league in fighting majors.

In those two playoff games in Fargo in which the Stars lost, both teams combined for one fight.  One.  Zach Aston-Reese vs. Keaton Thompson.  To be honest, that may have been Zach's first fight of the season.  

Also, what about the Green Bay Gamblers teams of 2008-10?  John Cooper, the head coach of the Gamblers at the time, was notorious for coaching a very physical, in your face style of hockey.  They didn't shy away from dropping the mitts at all.  In his two seasons in the USHL at the helm of the Gamblers, Cooper's teams combined for a record of 84-27-9.  His 2009-10 team racked up 1394 penalty minutes (3rd most in the league), and his 2008-09 team racked up 1363 penalty minutes (3rd most in the league).  His teams won back-to-back Anderson Cups (regular season champion), and in 2009-10, they also won the Clark Cup (playoff champion).  Not too shabby, eh?

How many penalty minutes did the Stars have last season?  1323.  Less than both seasons in Green Bay under Jon Cooper.  Where is Cooper today?  He's the head coach of the AHL Norfolk Admirals, and is rumored to be the next head coach of the NHL Tampa Bay Lightning.  Playing that rough and tumble style obviously didn't work out for Cooper (sarcasm).   Oh, but the USHL is quick to praise him with articles chronicling his meteoric rise up the coaching ranks.

Here's a quote from Skip Prince made back in April of 2010 in which he lauds Cooper after he was named USHL Head Coach and General Manager of the Year:

“The USHL gives out separate awards for the League’s top General Manager, and its top Head Coach for good reason – the demands of each position are separate, unique, and extraordinarily challenging,” said USHL Commissioner Skip Prince.  “It’s a tribute to Jon’s extraordinary talents that he has managed to excel in both, managing the overall hockey operations of a superb Green Bay Gamblers organization while coaching a team that has now won two consecutive Anderson Cups and is preparing for the Clark Cup Finals.  These are well-deserved awards for an impressive performance in all facets this year.”

Ask anyone who has any knowledge of Cooper's style and they'll tell you his teams were plain nasty to play against.  They'd beat you up on the ice and on the scoreboard.  That quote was from less than two years ago.  Where was Prince when Cooper's teams were steamrolling opponents back then?

I don't want to ramble on, but Prince's statement is flat out ignorant and stupid in my opinion.  If you want to argue that fighting doesn't belong at this level....fine.  Make your point and move on.  To throw the Stars under the bus and state that they lose games because they play a certain style of hockey is dumb.  How is it working for the Stars this season?  In first place for most of the season?  Bueller?  Yeah, I thought so.

Finally, here's another nugget of wisdom from the commissioner of the USHL:

For now, there are rules in place to cut down on fighting.

Players are no longer allowed to remove their helmets to start a fight, unlike last season. Prince said if a helmet was to fall off, referees will break up the fight immediately.

Uhh....what?  When was the last time Skip watched a USHL game?  Players remove their helmets all the time before a fight.  And from what I've seen, they are not penalized for removing their helmets.  The only additional penalties handed out other than the five-minute major have been misconducts when the players dance around and take too much time before throwing punches.

Also, his statement about referees breaking up fights immediately if a helmet falls off?  Laughable.  Not to argue semantics, but linesmen break up fights, not referees.  Anyway, if this is what the rules are supposed to be, Prince may want to watch the occasional USHL game and see what really happens.  An example from just last weekend:

Just about every fight I've seen so far this season, both players took their helmets off in front of the linesmen and referee before throwing punches.  You don't see any linesmen interrupting the fight when the helmets come off.

Yes, the Stars play a rugged style of hockey.  Some of the players aren't afraid to drop the gloves to defend a teammate, or fire their team up.  However, there are no "enforcers" in the Lincoln lineup.  You can easily look at any other USHL roster and find a player with zero points and a ton of penalty minutes.  Players like Mike McKee, Brent Tate, Markus McCrea, and Dax Lauwers all contribute with points and quality minutes on the ice.  I can point out other USHL players who are fourth-liners, who get maybe 5 shifts a game, and rack up fighting majors like it's going out of style.

Sorry for the rant, but the statements from Skip Prince really rubbed me the wrong way.  I'd love to hear what you think.  Please leave a comment below.  Thanks for reading.


BellTolls said...

Total lack of class on his part. You know the commissioner is in tight with all the officials...makes you wonder what they all talk about behind closed doors when they've got their feet up and the beers flowing.

starsfan said...

I understand the fighting as long as there is a legitimate reason (cheap shot or running the goalie). I think the league is trying to cut down on the fighting because of the injuries-and Lincoln has sustained quite a few missed games due to fighting. With all of the talk of outlawing it at the NHL level it was just a matter of time before it filtered down to the USHL. Not many NHL players take their helmets off anymore to eliminate concussions due to fighting. If a fan goes to the game just to see the fights he's not a true fan of the sport. Seems like we all like to see a fight now and then though-must be the caveman in us lol.

Jason said...

I think the context is in play here. I'll play devil's advocate and say Lincoln was the example simply as the team with the highest number of fights last season. If it were another team - then he'd say them.

But - there's no correlation between less fighting and greater success either.

That said, in light of Green Bay's performances the commish's comments are hypocritical and he's jumping on the bandwagon now that head injuries and its relation to fighting are on the front burner.

I think fighting is a necessary evil, and grudgingly accept it, though I do not like the employment of 'enforcers.' Skill guys will knock the crap off if they know THEY have to drop the gloves. Would it be nice to see it gone? Maybe - but I'm not going on a debate. That's for another time.

starsfan said...

I don't have a problem with the fighting as long as there is a reason (cheap shot or running the goalie). I think the league is trying to cut down on some of the injuries sustained during fighting (concussions, broken hands, etc.). It was just a matter or time before this filtered down from the NHL level. Not many pros take their helmets off to fight anymore to avoid injury. Lincoln has certainly lost their share of game time to injuries obtained while fighting. But hey-who doesn't like to watch a fight now and then-must be the caveman in us lol. I did think that we got the anti-Lincoln sentiment out of the league when Gino left but guess that's not the case.

Layla said...

Other than Hanson, I can't off the top of my head think of many players who have lost significant time due to injuries sustained in a fight. Most of the injuries from what I can tell I believe happened during a "legal" play or a hit during the course of the game or possibly practice. The league is trying to crack down on concussions, but eliminating fighting is not the only way to go about it. Crosby's concussion was not caused by a fight, it was caused by getting hit with his head down. The NHL is cracking down on hits to the head, I'm not sure where the USHL stands on this policy, but I think that there are more things the league needs to do to eliminate concussions and other injuries.

nopuckluck said...

Hey Skippy????

Which team has lead the league in attendance 9 out of the last 10 seasons????

MacAttack said...

when I was up in Sioux City for the Fall Classic, the discussion on fighting came up. from what I was told, the league would like the players to keep their helmets on for the purpose of preventing concussions but there is no penalty for taking them off. but they don't want any "dancing around" before the fighting actually starts. so if the helmet comes off, the fight must begin quickly. and considering all the players have at the very least the half shield, it would make fighting with the helmet on a bit awkward. and a full cage would be even more of a hindrance to punching one's opponent in the jaw. this of course is fine as long as both players are courteous enough to allow your opponent to take off his helmet before engaging him. at the Classic, in the game between Muskegon and Green Bay, Dakota Mermis got ambushed by the kid from Muskegon before he could get his helmet (with full cage) fully off.
also I think Coach Johnson does not really like having the players fight but is not so naive to know that sometimes it is necessary. I think we all would expect someone to come running to Teichrob's or Williams' defense if a player from the other team charged the net too aggressively. also I would expect them to defend their teammates in the case of a questionable/dirty play along the boards.