Sunday, February 04, 2007

The World's Toughest Hockey League

Where it often resembles Ultimate Fighting on skates...and the fans absolutely love it.



It's called, the Ligue Nord Americaine de Hockey or LNAH for short and if you're a fan that misses the old-style, rough and tumble days of hockey... then this is the league for you.
SOREL-TRACY, QUEBEC -- Think of the worst nightmare you have ever had.

For those selling the Gary Bettman-led vision for top-level pro hockey, it would be the fight-filled, Ligue Nord Americaine de Hockey (LNAH), or the North American Hockey League.

As the NHL spins shootouts, fuzzy-faced teenaged sensations, aero-dynamic new uniforms and corporate talking points, fighting majors continue their steady decline. Fighting has been declining or levelling off at the minor-pro level as well, in leagues such as the 27-team American Hockey League, the 25-team East Coast Hockey League, and the lower-level eight-team Southern Professional Hockey League, according to statistics gathered by websites like hockeyfights.com.

All except in places like Sorel-Tracy, 80 km northeast of Montreal, in a 56-year-old rink called Colisee Cardin. This is a place where bare-knuckle hockey is not only condoned but marketed. As the heavyweights gradually disappear from pro hockey's landscape, as minor pro leagues adapt to a faster, offence-oriented game in lock-step with the NHL, this is where many come to find their final hockey resting place. [...]

For the Sorel-Tracy Mission and the St-Georges CRS Express, and for the other six teams in Quebec's minor pro league, it is still mostly about the fight. The league is evolving, but fighting is its core, which brings up a high-wire act for LNAH commissioner Michel Gaudette and the owners: How far do they go in raising this higher quality of hockey --which people in the league compare with the ECHL, one notch below the AHL -- while not turning off the paying customers, those who watch on RDS, and the website traffickers who come to the league because of its hardcore element? These are the people who have come to expect Ultimate Fighting Championship on skates, the anticipation that a game might turn into a bloodbath.
Speaking of bloodbaths here's one of the more infamous incidents from the LNAH's recent past...



Ok, now back to the article....
As the NHL struggles with where to slot fighting in its game, the LNAH struggles with where to slot fighting during a game. It is becoming a balancing act -- when to nail the tough guy to the bench, when to turn him loose for tactical purposes to turn the tide of a game, and when to throw him out there and slide in a fight for the sheer entertainment value for the fans who have come to expect it. Here, developing players for advancement is not in any business plan. Dollas said typically teams are made up of two lines of scorers, one line of grinders, and one line of fighters. [...]

The "goon" tag bothers Gaudette and Dollas, a defenceman who played in the LNAH before he became coach. "I cannot be the only guy thinking the NHL right now isn't very good. I watch the Canadiens, the Leafs, and it's basketball on skates. It's a chess match. If you touch somebody, the piece falls over and you're in the penalty box. Here, this is lunch-pail hockey. You have to have courage, guts, balls to play here. It's hard-fought from the front line to the fourth."

Like anything, an idealistic future for the fan who wants to see more fighting likely falls somewhere between the extreme, sometimes manufactured element that is the LNAH, and the increasingly passionless NHL product, where the mind games and intimidation factor, in the opinions of many, are bleeding out of the game as players grow acclimated with anti-obstruction rules brought in after the lockout.
So, if you think this style of hockey is your cup of tea and you're interested in seeing more of the action that is the Ligue Nord Americaine de Hockey, YouTube has quite a collection that you can view >>> HERE.

If you like what you've seen so far you just gotta check this LNAH action out.



2 comments:

Brushback said...

Great post! I've never looked at videos of the LNAH before-- that was cool...

br. t. said...

Thanks brushback, the LNAH is a very interesting throwback kind of league that a lot of hockey fans really appreciate.