Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond has a complicated job. He has to fight, protect his teammates and play by the rules.
Quite a few of them.
In today’s hockey, enforcers are facing more and more rule changes that are designed to protect them and the other players on the ice. This season’s latest change deals with players who voluntarily remove their helmets before a fight. What was once a common practice and form of sportsmanship among tough guys has now been turned into an unsportsmanlike conduct minor penalty.
So how does Leblond feel about it?
Well, for starters, he said it’s not going to eliminate fighting if that was in the intent.
“In juniors we had the same rule and I still ended up with 38 fights. If it’s necessary, fights are going to happen,” he said.
Leblond said if the rule is truly meant to protect players in a fight that hit their head on the ice, that’s fine. When it comes to protecting his head, Leblond would rather leave his helmet on anyway.
Yet if the rule was implemented 10 years ago, when there were more staged fights, Leblond said it could be a detriment because players would be hurting their hands when a punch lands on a helmet.
But in today’s hockey, things are different.
“To protect your head over your hands I think is a smart thing. But do I like the rule or not? It’s too early yet,” Leblond said. “I think about how many guys I’ve seen fall on their heads during a fight, and honestly it’s not a lot. The only one that’s recent is George Parros.”
In some fights the helmet rule will end up being a moot point anyhow, Leblond said, as the lids are easy to pop off with a few punches. Visors make the helmets easy to knock off, even if they are hard on the hands.
“One punch on the visor the helmet tilts. The second punch the bucket comes off,” Leblond said. “Why not take it off right away if you know it’s going to come off rather than break your hand on a visor? Perhaps the rule is the right thing to do, but time will tell.”
Leblond said fighting in hockey is in a transition phase. Not only are there new rules, but there are more expectations for enforcers as well. In today’s hockey they have to be able to skate a regular shift and contribute at both ends of the ice.
Leblond doesn’t view the change as a phase-out of fighting but rather a challenge to adapt.
“If they want to make it so you have to be faster, then it’s my job to improve. I have to be faster, better defensively, stronger on the puck and not make any turnovers,” he said. “Back in the day that wasn’t the job description of an enforcer. Now, it is and I go with it.”
One thing that hasn’t changed is the value of having an enforcer on the ice to protect his teammates. Leblond already demonstrated that benefit during a preseason game against Hershey when the Bears tried to retaliate against defenseman Philip Samuelsson for a big hit. Leblond quickly skated into the scrum, wrapped up an opponent and settled things down.
To be successful as an enforcer, you don’t always have to fight, he said.
“Sometimes it’s just the presence. I’ve been pro for nine years now so players know me,” Leblond said. “If I’m on the ice and you try to job one of my guys, I’ll get right in your face. That’s my role. I’ve always been a guy who will protect his teammates. That’s what I like about my job.”