NHL enforcer Boulton talks about fight rules

ATLANTA – boulton-cote-fightThe talk of tweaking fight rules is nothing new to the NHL but the buzz this season has gained momentum after being fueled by two serious minor league incidents, one that resulted in death.Both of these incidents were the result of fighting and in both cases, the players lost their helmets during their altercations.

Earlier this season during an OHA game Don Sanderson, a 21-year-old rookie, went into a coma and later died after slamming his head on the ice and in an AHL contest, Garrett Klotz suffered a seizure from a head injury he received after removing his helmet to battle Kevin Westgarth.

Regardless of the intense public heat put on the leagues to implement tighter regulations or ban fighting from the sport, don’t expect fighting to completely disappear from the game. Eliminating such a popular and traditional asset of the game would create uproar from the fan base and cause economic strain on the sport.

Like it or not, some fans come out to see the fights. There’s a reason hard-nosed players like Donald Brashear, Riley Cote and Jared Boll are fan favorites. They represent what hockey is; a tough sport.

Atlanta Thrashers forward Eric Boulton is also no stranger to fisticuffs. After recording 131 points (65g 66a) and 1,374 penalty minutes in 319 minor league games, Boulton journeyed his way to the NHL where he has established himself as one of the game’s respected enforcers.

Recently, I sat down with the 7-year NHL veteran to get his feedback on the possibility of fight rule changes in the league.

“It’s unfortunate and sad what happened to that young man [Sanderson],” said Boulton. “I think there could be a few rules put in place, like not removing the helmet and maybe implementing a rule that you can’t toss a guy [to the ice] in a fight. That’s where an injury can occur with a guy banging his head on the ice.”

During a recent interview NHLPA director Paul Kelly said they may suggest some rule changes, for example, if a helmet comes off during a fight, the fight should be immediately stopped by the referees.

I asked Boulton if it is realistic to expect two players in the heat of the battle to suddenly stop throwing punches if a helmet comes off, “No absolutely not [realistic]. I don’t like that rule at all. I don’t know how you would ever enforce that,” said the Halifax, Nova Scotia native. “Keep the helmets on, make sure guys don’t take them off before the fights; but that’s the only rule change I would suggest.”

In the NHL where there is no mandatory visor rule in place, players normally keep their helmets on unless they agree to remove them for dramatic effect to entertain the crowd. With mandatory visor rules in effect in the minor leagues it is becoming common practice for enforcers to purposely remove their helmets prior to engaging in fisticuffs, like in Klotz’ seizure incident.

Boulton loses his head protection on occasion during his altercations but feels if that happens in the middle of the fight, they should let it go. “The main thing in my opinion is never [purposely] take your helmet off,” said Boulton. “Helmets have been coming off during fights for years. Guys just should never remove them intentionally.”

While many people believe a ‘code of ethics’ does not exist at the minor league levels regarding fighting, Boulton feels an unwritten “code of ethics’ does exist between most NHL fighters.

“I would say 99% of the guys are respectable of each other and their jobs,” said Boulton. “We all know it’s a hard job to do and you need to have that respect. I’ve seen a lot of that this year, if a guy goes down, not hitting him or if a jersey goes over a head, not hitting him and stuff like that.

I’ve also [occasionally] seen a few guys hitting a guy when they’re on the ice and definitely that stuff shouldn’t happen. That’s where guys get hurt.”

While many NHL players would dread taking on a 6-ft, 3-in. 234-lb. enforcer like Washington Capitals Donald Brashear, Boulton referred to his minute-long, toe-to-toe brawl with Brashear the night before like it was just ‘another day at the office’.

Boulton who is accustomed to bringing Thrashers’ fans to their feet with his rugged style, talked about the most severe injury he ever suffered in a fight.

“Worst injury [from a fight] was a little crack in the face, a broken bone between my nose and my eye here,” he explained while pointing at the crooked spot on his upper bridge. “I had to put on a visor and played with it on for 6 weeks then took it off, it was nothing serious.”

Broken nose. Nothing serious. Just another ‘day at the office’.

Sports Climax NHL fight video clips here.

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