Feature: Sheffield Steelers ace reveals why he has changed his view on fighting in ice hockey
A Steelers player who was suspended for three games last year after a ‘dangerous’ hit says he has changed his own life-time's view on fighting in ice hockey.
At 33, Jordan Owens is considering quitting the sport after a notable career in the AHL, DEL and ultimately Sheffield and Australia.
Before he starts a new career in computer programming, he has been reflecting on fighting in hockey, a fan-favoured attraction that he himself defended up until recently.
Some insiders in the game would prefer a ban on fisticuffs - stating it is responsible for many of the concussions in the game.
Owens' view changed after an incident playing for Sheffield against Coventry Blaze on February 23.
The Canadian "modern day gladiator" executed a hit which connected high with league leading point-scorer, Ben Lake's head.
Blaze defenceman David Clements sought revenge by steaming into Owens.
Later, disciplinary chiefs suspended the Sheffield player for "a deliberate/dangerous action with no concern for the result”.
Owens admits he'd been guilty, albeit unintentionally, of an illegal check to the head. He does not seek to defend himself for that.
"It’s what happened seconds after that had me change from a supporter of fighting, to someone who wouldn’t mind seeing it gone from the game altogether," said Owens.
"Once I made that hit and the crowd roared with excitement, it was only seconds until I was defending myself from bare-fisted blows to the head.
"I wasn’t surprised someone had come to fight me as I’ve dropped my gloves in defence of a team mate on numerous occasions throughout my career.
"It’s quite a normal thing in hockey and we went toe-to-toe for a few seconds until we fell to the ice and were then escorted to the penalty box.
"The fans were satisfied having seen the brutish display: modern day gladiators.
"I ended up finishing the game with no trouble. So did the player I hit to begin with.
Sign up to our daily newsletter
The i newsletter cut through the noise
"It was the next day when I was getting ready to board the team bus when my coach called me aside and told me I’d been suspended three games for head checking."
Owens finds it hard to come to the terms that if the League bosses had found his body check to be reckless: "How do they define the actions of a player jumping me and throwing bare fisted punches to my head with the intent to render me unconscious?
"The key word here is ‘intent’. This player literally tried to knock me out. Is it not a contradiction to suspend a player for an unintentional shoulder or elbow to the head but not a wilful and conscious punch to the head?
"Over the span of my 12 year professional career I have seen many more players get knocked unconscious on the ice from punches to the head than from hits," said the forward, who was Steelers' sixth top point scorer last season and the fourth highest penalty minute taker.
"The science behind concussions does not discriminate between punches to the head or shoulders to the head," he continued.
"Head trauma is head trauma plain and simple.
"To me, player-safety takes precedence. At the end of the day hockey is just a game and our lives outside the rink are what truly is important.
"It’s this realisation that has me questioning something I defended unquestionably in the past.
"I’m beginning to question the justifications behind fighting in hockey to begin with. It’s a highly physical game, of course.
"But so is football and rugby and these sports don’t seem to have fighting ingrained in their culture despite having moments of dirty play and conflict between players."
The winger, who left Steelers at the end of last season for Melbourne Mustangs, believes "that fighting in hockey is just a cultural indoctrination that has been passed down from generation to generation.
"Fighting is becoming more scarce than it once was due to rule changes, so things are naturally heading in the right direction albeit some (fans and players) push back...mostly people who grew up on the old version of hockey.
"Like I said, I was one of them.
"If we are serious about protecting players from head trauma and the negative long-term effects these traumas can have, it only makes logical sense to rid hockey of fighting once and for all."
Ryan Martinelli, a defenceman with Steelers last season and unwanted at the House of Steel this year, has signed for Bratislava Capitals in Slovakia 2.