It's all fine manners and genteel behavior for Gary Bettman's boys, but down on the farm they're still settling their differences the old fashioned way, with a nightly dose of Don Cherry's Rock em Sock em.
While the NHL trumpets its stats that fighting is down by 42%, the AHL is home to the new tough guys, players not afraid to run up those penalty minutes. One player that seems on a pace to setting a new AHL record is Dennis Bonvie, who plays for Hamilton the Montreal Canadiens farm club. Bonvie has appeared in 14 games thus far in this years AHL season, spending over 103 minutes of them in the penalty box for a number of infractions. Should he keep that pace up over the entire season, he would be on his way to a 600 minute penalty year and a new record for the rough and tumble AHL.
Then again if Bonvie is going to find himself infamously in the record books, he's going to have to actually pick up the pace. At the moment he finds himself trailing the Penalty minutes parade by 6 minutes, as Grand Rapids Darryl Bootland holds court over the top of the penalty roost with 109.
As a form of comparison the top penalty taker in the NHL is Steve Ott of Dallas, this bad boy has played in 19 games so far this year and earned 60 minutes in penalties. Almost half of what an AHL enforcer might take to the box.
It's hard to determine why there is such a difference in the style of play between the two leagues, one theory is that many of the tough guys now in the AHL are placed there because the NHL has moved to a less physical and more punitive phase. Many NHL teams can't take the risk of keeping a roster spot open for a player who only can provide the fisticuffs over the finesse.
The only team that seems to have used a player considered to be a tough guy properly, is the Ottawa Senators Brian McGratton. He not only plays the role of a John Ferguson policeman type on the ice, he also contributes in the subtle art of creating some room for his team mates. So far he's managed to do that without a huge cost of penalty time checking in at fifth place with 53 minutes, a total that wouldn't even get him a mention in the AHL.
McGratton's spot on the Sens though is giving hope for a legion of tough guys in the AHL that there may be hope for a call up one day. But the word is out, a ticket back to the bigs takes much more than just a good set of fists.