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Chris Murphy, Published October 14 2013

On-ice incident during USHL game reignites debate over fighting in the sport

FARGO – The scene at Saturday’s United States Hockey League game between Dubuque and Cedar Rapids is not something USHL commissioner Skip Prince ever wants to see. But he would like people who endorse fighting in hockey to see it.

“You never want to see it,” Prince said. “Those people who endorse fighting and say that there’s not enough of it. I want them to be there in the crowd on Saturday night when a kid who has a great future and is going to go to (the University of New Hampshire), and he’s got a scholarship commitment and he’s in convulsions. This is what happens for those of you who endorse fighting all the time.”

The scene was helmet-less Dubuque defenseman Dylan Chanter crashing to the ice during a fight with Cedar Rapids’ Corey Petrash midway through the second period. The crowd cheered until Chanter began to have full-body seizures for about two minutes. He remained on the ice until paramedics came to the scene 15 minutes later. Chanter was conscious as he was taken from the arena and the game was suspended.

A statement issued by the USHL Monday said Chanter was back in Dubuque and resting comfortably after being released late Saturday night from the hospital.

Fighting is allowed in the USHL, which is made up of mostly players between the ages of 16 and 20 years old, but removing equipment, for any reason, is not.

“I’m not sure in this particular instance that anything we did would have prevented someone from getting hurt,” Prince said. “The rule here is you can’t take your helmet off when you fight in the USHL, but the helmet was dislodged. If the helmet had stayed on, the kid, we think, probably wouldn’t have gotten hurt.”

There have been 20 fights in 47 games so far this season in the USHL, which is a number Prince is proud of. According to Prince, the number is lower than it’s ever been.

“This league has not been a fighting league,” Prince said. “Neither the NHL or colleges are looking for enforcers in the USHL. They are looking for skaters or scorers. As our fighting numbers have gone down, our draft numbers have gone up.”

The USHL has the same five-minute major penalty as the NHL and it does not allow what Prince called “Facebook fights,” which are predetermined before games. According to Prince, the only fights that are allowed come from the emotions of the game.

“Boiling point is 212 degrees,” Prince said. “These players play at 209 degrees all the time and when it gets to 213 degrees and a fight breaks out, we have to know what to do about it. It’s really difficult to always cook at that right temperature. The intensity that these kids show means that they lose it sometimes. Fighting is not when our players are getting hurt.”

Prince does not see fighting being banned from the USHL or any hockey league any time soon.

“It’s something that you can penalize, but I’m not sure you could legislate it out of the game,” Prince said. “If fighting stopped in the National Hockey League, it would stop at all levels of hockey underneath it. I don’t think that’s going to occur either. A player is going to take a cheap shot and someone is going to come after them because the referee wouldn’t or two players are going at each other and what if elbows and pushing and shoving turns into a swing.”

Fargo Force coach John Marks played 657 games in the NHL, and he doesn’t see fighting going anywhere either.

“I kind of wonder why none of it happened more years ago when none of us wore helmets,” Marks said of injuries during fights. “There were more fights back then than there are here today. There were bench-clearing brawls. I don’t know how you take it out. To me, they are messing it up more than anything because the players used to police the sport better than it’s getting policed today.”

Marks also brought up hockey losing its entertainment value without fights.

“There’s two times in a hockey game where fans really jump up off their feet: a breakaway and a fight,” Marks said. “If you take the crashes out of NASCAR, maybe 150,000 people don’t show up.”

Prince agreed with the entertainment value for other hockey leagues, but not the USHL.

“Take away entertainment or the need for the crowd because that is not true in our league,” Prince said. “We don’t have enough fights or fight well enough for it to be an attraction.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Chris Murphy at (701) 241-5548