Mazzuca has changed with the game

August 10, 2015

During his Ontario Hockey League playing days as a high-scoring, menacing defenceman, Rob Mazzuca was known as a tough customer who put up points and carried his stick high.

Goons were a going concern, nasty creatures were a feature and the 5-foot-10, 190-pound Mazzuca kept his head up and his fists clenched while prowling OHL bluelines for the Sudbury Wolves and Soo Greyhounds from 1979 to 1983.

Was Mazzuca a force to be reckoned with during the fast, reckless days of the OHL?

You bet he was.

A first-round pick by the Wolves as an under-sized defenceman at the 1979 OHL draft, Mazzuca could skate, shoot, score, fight — and play dirty.

Through 211 career OHL games with the Wolves and Hounds, Mazzuca scored 38 goals, 110 assists, 148 points — and racked up 438 minutes in penalties, many of which were the result of fights that cracked heads and high sticks that drew blood.

What would now be cause for a 10-to-20 game suspension in the OHL would get a player a two-game slap-on-the-wrist back then.

To be sure, the game catered to gloves-dropping forwards and big, bruising defencemen back then.

Size really did matter in those days and there was no place at the National Hockey League draft tables for a 5-foot-10 defenceman — even if a kid like Mazzuca could put up points and draw blood with the best of any OHL blueliner.

Ah, how times have changed.

The man who once handed out mere two-game suspensions for acts of violence is still the OHL commissioner, only David Branch now — and for the past 20 years or so — has ruled with an iron hand that metes out severe punishment to those who break the law.

And of note, the man who drafted Mazzuca into the OHL as general manager of Wolves, Joe Drago, is now the chairman of the board for Hockey Canada and a major advocate for increased player safety.

Gradually, over time, lower-level junior leagues have followed the lead of guys like Branch and Drago and dramatic steps have been taken to protect players at all costs.

Mazzuca is now 53-years old and about to enter his fifth season as a highly-regarded commissioner of the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League.

As Mazzuca has overseen growth of the NOJHL to an unprecedented 12 teams, he has also followed the rules and regulations of the Canadian Jr. Hockey League discipline supplement to a tee.

With safety of its players at the top of the agenda, the NOJHL has cracked down on blows to the head, dangerous hits, multiple major penalties for fighting and checking from behind — and even fights that are deemed to be “staged.”

As Mazzuca played the game well and played it the way it was allowed to be played when he was a teenager, he now manages the game the way Hockey Canada wants it to be played.

“It’s all about player safety now, as it should be,” Mazzuca says evenly and without hesitation. “The emphasis has become more on player development.”

And as opposed to the old days when smelling salts were a way of “treating” a player with a suspected concussion, there are other more-advanced means of treatment and precaution that are now in place.

Smart and skilled when he was a star OHL defenceman, Mazzuca also knew what he had to do to protect himself against harm and injury.

Not only did Mazzuca never back down from a fight, he often instigated fisticuffs as a means of survival in a game that embraced goons, thugs and bullies.

The game has changed from what it was when Mazzuca played.

And as the no-nonsense, forward-thinking commissioner of the NOJHL, Mazzuca has changed with it — for the good.

What you think about “Mazzuca has changed with the game”

  1. What a bunch of Bull Shit this is Randy. You kno that I like your Articles as I have made comments about but this here is Bull Shit Randy . . . The Pansies are taking over our Game!!!

  2. Great article RR . Well thought out and using your many years that youve been covering the Juniors. Like I say great article RR.

  3. This article hits the nail on the head. It’s really all about the game evolving. It’s certainly NOT about being condescending towards those who still enjoy the pure entertainment value of a bareknuckle brawl, even between unwilling or uneven combatants. For hockey to be taken more seriously on the world stage, it needs to get past intimidation, intent to injure other team’s stars, etc, as a means to victory. Policing a moron who is taking liberties is one thing. If the referees won’t deal with it, a teammate must. But going after a player because you’re losing a series, or you’re trying to “give your team a spark”, just isn’t acceptable for an elite sport such as hockey. I, for one, applaud the David Branch and Robert Mazzuca’s who have the courage to swim against the stream of popular sentiment. One day, they will be seen as revolutionary and courageous thinkers. Dinosaurs did, I believe, go extinct…

  4. Thats a great report on Mr. Mazzuca’s, I had no idea his numbers were so impressive, and im usually pretty good with stats. Even in todays “changed” game, a player with those numbers is still valuable and I couldnt imagine a team not taking a flyer on him.

    As for the game, its better, faster and safer. I still like tough hockey, but i also believe there will always be dinks on the ice, I love seeing a good tilt to put one back in its place, or at least try. Hockey always should have a place for fights, the refs cant do it all and the injuries from getting two handed, elbowed, ran from behind or stuck in the face are often more serious than a few punches will be. I believe the will always be intimidation and fear in contact sports, and until that changes, there will always be room for big strong ugly guys who gain net presence or puck possesion by creating seconds of hesitation in the opposition.

    Im not sure i agree with Espofan’s comments about unwilling or uneven combatants. If the player did something to deserve a few licks, he shouldnt be classified as unwilling or uneven. refs are quick to break up that stuff if wasnt warranted. It is certainly less common in todays game to see staged fights or coaches sending out guys to do just that.

  5. I really do not see why the game has to “evolve”. It’s a game!!
    And grow and be taken more seriously??
    Are you kidding me??
    For team sports; Next to Soccer, Baseball, Football, and Basketball, Hockey is next in line in popularity. None of these sports require as much money to play or be equipt to play. It has nothing to do with the element of fisticuffs. In fact I beg to bet that the majority that love hockey (truly love it) enjoy it for that rough, unexpected element. The fights draw in as many, or more to the sport, than turn them away. Eliminating fighting will NOT increase popularity of the sport.
    And I , for one, find the “skilled game” quite boring.

    How was attendance in the 80’s, 90’s, early 2000’s compared to now? When the game was rougher. I know many times at Junior A games, if not a hard hitting rough game, “boring” can be thrown around more often, especially on the BIg Ice. Small rinks seem to always have a more entertaining, hard hitting element due to the obvious reasons.

    And I’m not talking swinging sticks, etc. I’m talking about a one on one scrap, staged or not.

    Thats all I got on this issue for now, More Coffee!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *