Sports

Lacrosse rule punishes punch-ups

New Westminster Salmonbellies player Scott Rouse, left, fights with Nanaimo Timbermen opponent Simon Stocks during a Western Lacrosse Association game last season at Nanaimo
New Westminster Salmonbellies player Scott Rouse, left, fights with Nanaimo Timbermen opponent Simon Stocks during a Western Lacrosse Association game last season at Nanaimo's Frank Crane Arena.
— image credit: File photo

Lacrosse will still be fast, furious and physical, but now without the fisticuffs.

Box lacrosse communities around the country were caught by surprise this week after the Canadian Lacrosse Association's board of directors made a rule change banning fighting from the sport. Senior, junior and intermediate lacrosse in Nanaimo will be affected.

"We're trying to find a rhyme or a reason for this, and nobody really knows…" said Brad Dougan, coach of the Nanaimo Timbermen junior A club. "It's something that's been part of the game forever."

He said he doesn't think players are really getting hurt from fighting.

"I don't see why they had to stop it. There was no big incident, the only thing I can think of was that intermediate [brawl] with Coquitlam last year. It kind of went viral and blew everything out of proportion."

Ron McQuarrie, vice-president of B.C. Lacrosse Association, was part of the committee tasked with the fighting review. He said player safety and the concussion issue were considerations.

“We felt people will recognize this is a good move. It’s where we want to take our box game,” McQuarrie said.

From now on, any player who fights will receive a five-minute major penalty and a game misconduct. If there is a clear instigator, then the non-offending player won't be ejected.

Like it or not, all leagues will comply with the new Rule 45, even the Western Lacrosse Association senior A league, comprised of grown men.

“The CLA decision is consistent with current values in society, given the discussions around [violence] in hockey and all sports,” said Casey Cook, WLA commissioner.

Matt Wray, a defender and tough guy on the senior A Timbermen, said he understands that sports want to remove head shots, but he doesn't think banning fighting will accomplish that.

"I know guys do get hurt in fights and do get concussions, but I don't think it's any more than from hits in the game," he said. "You're not going to eliminate hits in lacrosse, you're not going to eliminate the aggressive nature of the sport."

Some feel the rule change might even increase violence in other ways. Dougan said he thinks there will be more stickwork and cheap shots now.

"The accountability's gone now because you can basically hide behind the rule," said Wray.

He suggested that teams might even dress tough guys just to try to pick a fight with better players on the opposing team. It will put additional pressure on the officials to try to identify aggressors and make the right call.

Most believe there will still be fights in the lacrosse box – the bouts will just be mostly limited to the third period, when players might be more willing to accept getting ejected.

"You've just got to pick and choose your spots a little more wisely," Wray said.

CLA president Joey Harris said in a press release that the rule change better showcases the sport, "and keeps the focus on the aspects that make our sport so great – speed, athleticism and skill." But the new rule isn't entirely fan-friendly. Dougan said spectators might get frustrated seeing star players get slashed and cross-checked with no repercussions. And fans invariably put down their smartphones and pay attention when a fight breaks out on the floor.

"For a sport that's trying to get that fan base cemented, I think they're going to drive away more people than they draw to it," Wray said.

McQuarrie calls the new rule an improvement, and a first step. He expects that there will still be fighting in the game but hopes it will gradually become a more rare occurrence.

"Are we going to solve all the problems or issues from fighting in year one? No we're not. We’ll see what issues arise, and deal with them as they come along," he said.

So lacrosse players are just going to have to try to hold their temper – for this next season, at least.

"Hopefully we'll get through this year and they'll change their minds, maybe," Dougan said. "We'll see."

-with files from Travis Paterson

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