MONTREAL - A slim majority of Canadians believe NHL fights should be banished to the penalty box - for good - a new poll suggests.
A Canadian Press Harris-Decima survey conducted during the NHL all-star weekend indicates 54 per cent of the Canadian public think fighting should be ousted from the league. Forty per cent believe it should remain.
But the same question posed to the most passionate NHL fans revealed that 68 per cent think players should continue to duke it out.
"Opinion is pretty split on this issue, there's a slight majority overall among Canadians that say that they think fighting should probably be banned from hockey," said Jeff Walker, Harris-Decima's senior vice-president.
"However, you've got a core group of hockey fans - the most ardent fans - who do not want fighting banned from hockey at all."
The poll indicated that only 30 per cent of people who follow the NHL closely say the league should eliminate fisticuffs from the game.
The telephone survey of just more than 1,000 people was conducted between last Thursday and Sunday and has a margin of error of 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.
The debate over fighting in the NHL was reignited in recent weeks after Ontario senior league player Don Sanderson, 21, died following a fight in which he hit his head on the ice.
Last week, Garrett Klotz, 20, of the Philadelphia Phantoms was taken off the ice on a stretcher after suffering a seizure following a bout in the American Hockey League.
The NHL plans to officially examine the role of fighting in the game during the GMs' meeting in March. Both the league and the National Hockey League Players' Association are looking at ways they can make fighting safer.
The Ontario Hockey League recently took a position on the matter and ruled its players must keep their helmets on while they're going toe-to-toe.
But around the NHL, there appears to be little support for eliminating the scuffles altogether.
"I'm a traditionalist when it comes to hockey," San Jose Sharks centre Joe Thornton said while in Montreal during the all-star break. "Fighting's been around since Day 1.
"I think it would be a shame to take it out of the game. It's part of hockey, like tying up your laces or shooting the puck. It's been part of hockey for a long, long time."
The poll also suggested that 62 per cent of Quebecers oppose fighting, far more than residents of any other region in Canada. Thirty-two per cent of Quebecers support it.
By comparison, Albertans were the biggest proponents of on-ice rumbles, with 52 per cent saying fights shouldn't be abolished, compared with 41 per cent who thought it should be banned..
Walker believes Quebec's position against fists flying on the ice has strengthened since the high-profile brawl last year involving the son of NHL legend Patrick Roy.
Quebec Remparts goalie Jonathan Roy attacked an opponent last March during a Quebec Major Junior Hockey League game.
Patrick Roy, coach of the Remparts, appeared to urge on his son with a wave moments before he charged the rival goaltender.
Provincial politicians called for a ban on fights in junior hockey. In response, the QMJHL tightened its rules against violence but fighting remains part of the game.
"That would certainly help explain the Quebec numbers, I think," Walker said.
Fifty-six per cent of Ontario residents, 49 per cent of people from Atlantic Canada and 48 per cent of respondents from B.C., Saskatchewan and Manitoba agreed that fighting should be banned.
The poll also suggests that:
-Sixty per cent of younger Canadians (aged 18 to 34) believe fighting should remain part of the game, while 65 per cent of people over 50 think it should be abolished.
-Men, at 52 per cent, support fighting way more than women (30 per cent).
-Among Conservative party supporters, 48 per cent support fighting, compared with 38 per cent of Liberals.
-Thirty-seven per cent of Canadians who earn less than $60,000 a year, 46 per cent of those who make between $60,000 and $100,000 annually and 43 per cent of people who bring home over $100,000 support fights.