Sunday, September 29, 2013

Penner To The LNAH - The Toughest League In The World

So it is a slow day for news related to the Allen Americans. While doing some research on CHL players that went overseas for the first time this year I came across information that Alex Penner has just signed to play for Jonquiere Marquis of the LNAH. Having seen reference to the LNAH in the past, Penner's signing inspired me to do some research about the league. Here is what I found. Probably more information than you would ever want to know about a famous hockey league that very few of us know about.

 Alex Penner, who played 20 games with the Americans last season before getting suspended for the season for his part in the line brawl with the Fort Worth Brahmas has signed to play hockey in Quebec (LNAH).  I first heard about this league several years ago from Bill McDonald who told me it was known for fighting and there is no veteran rules so it was filled with lots of older NHL & AHL players. Many former Allen Americans have played or are currently playing in the LNAH which stands for Ligue Nord-Americaine de Hockey (North America Hockey League). Alexandre Vincent (2009-2010), Ian McPhee (2010-2011), Dominic D'Amour (2011-2012), Marco Cousineau (2011-2012), Jonathan Lessard (2013-2014) and Alex Bourret are just a few current and former Allen players that have or are playing in the LNAH. I decided to look for more information about this league and came across the article below from 2011 written by Jeff Klein and published in the New York Times. Thought you might enjoy reading about what many call the toughest league in the world. Penner should fit right in.

TROIS-RIVIÈRES, Quebec — In a dimly lighted corridor of the dingy, old arena, Donald Brashear, an N.H.L. enforcer for 16 years, said he was playing in the rough-and-tumble Ligue Nord-Américaine de Hockey because he still loved the game. And though this Quebec league is widely regarded as the world’s toughest, Brashear said he was not in it to fight, but “to play hockey the way I did when I started — making passes, scoring goals.”
Brashear, 39, the captain of 3L de Rivière-du-Loup, had indeed been playing it straight: he had 31 points in 27 games and a fairly reasonable 56 penalty minutes going into last Friday’s game here against Caron & Guay de Trois-Rivières. Sometimes, he said, things “get out of hand,” but that he had been in only one fight the entire season. “The guy just hung on to me for his life,” he said.
Three hours later, Brashear was not playing it straight at all. He was on the ice, slugging away, much as he did as one of the more feared players in the game for five N.H.L. teams, including the Rangers last season.
It started late in what turned into a 7-2 loss. The Trois-Rivières goalie slashed one of Brashear’s teammates, who was fighting someone else, in the back of the leg. Enter Brashear, who began pounding on the goalie with his gloved hands. Another Trois-Rivières player tried to restrain Brashear, but Brashear went after him as well, continuing to hit him after the player fell to the ice. Somewhere in there, he threw a gloved punch at a third player.
Brashear got free and went back after the goalie. Finally, a linesman tackled him. Then both benches emptied in a scene reminiscent of the “Slap Shot” era of the 1970s.
“It was just like I told you,” a calm Brashear said in the same corridor afterward, “things got out of hand.”
The semiprofessional L.N.A.H. is in its 15th season of bringing a measure of mayhem to small municipal rinks around Quebec, like the 73-year-old Colisée de Trois-Rivières, the locus of hockey for this city of 130,000.
The league averages 3.2 fights a game this season, compared with 0.6 fights in the N.H.L. Despite the wildness, the antique rinks and the modest skill level, the L.N.A.H. draws a surprising number of former N.H.L. players — about 100 over all, including almost 20 this season.
Jesse Bélanger, 41, is one of those players. Now in his fourth season with his hometown COOL-FM 103.5 de Saint-Georges, Bélanger played 246 games in the N.H.L. over nine seasons.
“This gives me the chance to keep playing hockey,” Bélanger said. “I was playing in Switzerland, but I thought it would be nice to come back here to finish my career.”
For most of the league’s players, hockey is no longer a career ambition. The vast majority of them earn $150 to $400 a game, and teams operate under a salary cap of $6,300 to $6,800 a game. Brashear is one of only a handful of players who do not have a primary job outside the rink. Players tend to be teachers, sales representatives, laborers or students working toward university degrees.
“We have one or two practices a week, and one or two games per week,” said Bobby Baril, coach of Isothermic de Thetford Mines. “For our players, we are not the first priority — we have to work with their families and their jobs.”
Trying to strike a balance can be a challenge. Luc Bélanger — no relation to Jesse — is a high school physical education and English teacher before he turns his attention to protecting the goal for Thetford Mines.
“To be honest, it’s pretty tough to do this,” Bélanger said. “To spend the day at school with kids is a tough job, then drive an hour and a half to come to the game, get ready, play, then go back home, where I have two kids. And sometimes, go back to work the next morning.”
A recent rule stipulates that L.N.A.H. players must be from Quebec or have played junior hockey there, helping make the league a comfortable place for many locals.
“This is a good league for Quebec kids,” said Steve Larouche, a former N.H.L. player who now skates for Trois-Rivières. A number of players cited the ease of being able to conduct their hockey lives almost exclusively in French.
But the rule was passed more to cut down on expenses than to promote Quebec’s heritage. In the past, clubs would employ tough guys from the United States and elsewhere in Canada — players like the Syosset, N.Y., native Neil Posillico or the former N.H.L. enforcer Link Gaetz. (Gaetz was once suspended from the L.N.A.H. for leaving the bench to go to a concession stand for a hamburger.)
With enforcers no longer being flown in, the violence has abated to a certain degree, but it has not quite changed the L.N.A.H.’s reputation as a garage league, a term Quebecers use disparagingly to refer to a league full of hacks and fighters.
“The league has changed — it isn’t half as tough as it used to be,” said Thetford Mines’ Joel Thériault, an 11-year veteran who has amassed 2,840 penalty minutes in 282 games. “When I played in Verdun, we had a team rule never to give less than five fights a night.”
He also mentioned the Laval Chiefs, a defunct team that wore the same uniform as the team in “Slap Shot” and whose players would tell reporters of fights they planned to have in the next night’s game.
“A few years ago, I watched the playoffs and said, ‘I’ll never play in this league,’ ” said Larouche, 39, who played for Ottawa, the Rangers and Los Angeles in the 1990s. “A lot of checking from behind and guys trying to take the head off the best players. It was ridiculous. But the league got better, and now I’ve been here three years.”
He added, “Of course, if our team played in the N.H.L. or A.H.L., there’d be 20 power plays against us every night.”
The fists may not fly quite as often these days, but the league is still as gritty as any, if not more so. That quality was on display last Thursday, 90 miles to the southeast, where Thetford Mines hosted Saint-Georges.
“It’s a happening for the community,” said Jean-Pierre Lessard, the owner of Isothermic de Thetford Mines, as a crowd of roughly 1,000 filed into the 2,500-seat Centre Mario Gosselin.
Thetford Mines, population 25,000, is home to one of the world’s largest open-pit asbestos mines and is surrounded by mountains of tailings. Until 2009, the city spread asbestos slag on icy roads the way other cities used rock salt, and rates of illness from exposure are high.
There were only two all-out fights as Thetford Mines lost to Saint-Georges, 5-3, a result that gave Saint-Georges the regular-season championship.
But some old-time hockey was also on view. Thériault came charging across the ice long after the whistle in an unsuccessful attempt to board the league’s leading scorer, and, on separate occasions, Baril tossed a broken stick and a glove on the ice.
The next night, Trois-Rivières Coach Dean Lygitsakos was complaining about Brashear’s antics.
“He plays like an old-timer who decides suddenly to turn into a circus beast,” said Lygitsakos, who has led a movement to tone down the violence but still carries on his roster Tommy Bolduc, a 30-year-old career minor leaguer who going into Friday had no goals, no assists and 206 penalty minutes.
“To strike a goalie and repeatedly punch a defenseless player, that’s not toughness, that’s gratuitous violence,” Lygitsakos added. “It’s disgusting.”
Brashear had his own view.
“I told the players on the ice, don’t mess with me, because if you do, I won’t warn you, I’ll just start swinging,” he said.
Had Brashear had enough of the Ligue Nord-Américaine de Hockey?
“I don’t know, I have an offer to play with the Montreal Canadiens Old-Timers — it’s a good salary there, and there’s no hitting,” he said.
“But here there’s the competition,” he continued. “The game starts, and I fall right back into it.”

 Here is the description of the league from Wikipedia:

The Ligue Nord-Américaine de Hockey (North American Hockey League) (LNAH) was founded in 2004 and is a low-level professional league based in the Canadian province of Quebec. It was called the Quebec Semi-Pro Hockey League (QSPHL) from 1996 until it turned pro in 2004. It has no connection with the similarly named North American Hockey League, an American junior league for players under twenty. Teams in the LNAH compete for the Futura Cup, which has been awarded annually since 1997.
Unlike higher-level professional leagues, such as the American Hockey League or the ECHL, the LNAH is not known for its skill level. Its teams employ many enforcers and has a rather infamous reputation for on-ice antics that mostly include fisticuffs.
Despite its reputation as the world's toughest hockey league, many of the players are ex-NHL or ex-AHL players; Patrick Côté, Michel Picard, Stéphane Richer, Bobby Dollas, Guillaume Lefebvre, Garrett Burnett, Daniel Shank, François Leroux, Jeremy Stevenson, Éric Fichaud, Mario Roberge, David Gosselin, Michel Ouellet, Jesse Bélanger, Donald Brashear and Yves Racine. During the 2004–05 NHL lockout, some NHL players played the entire season in the league, such as Sylvain Blouin, Donald Brashear, Sébastien Caron, Mathieu Biron, Marc-André Bergeron and Sébastien Charpentier. The league has a rule that stipulates that all players must either have come from Quebec, or played junior hockey in Quebec.
Another unique aspect, compared to other minor pro leagues of North America, is the absence of a veteran limit rule, which allows teams to stock up on experienced players. The league is slowly trying to clean itself up (for 2005–06, the roster limit went from 20 to 19 players, which for most teams meant one less enforcer), but this is no easy task for a league that has always been popular with the fans for its reputation of being the toughest league in the world.
The LNAH Draft is held during the summer, including 15 rounds. Players too old for junior ice hockey may be drafted even if they were already drafted by an NHL team. Drafted players come from many leagues, including the Canadian Hockey League, American Hockey League, lower-level professional leagues, and the Canadian Interuniversity Sport.

And finally and article written last year by Pat Hickey of the Montreal Gazette:

On a crisp November night, the wind is whipping off the St. Lawrence and buffeting fans as they walk from the parking lot to the comfort of the Ed Lumley Arena.
The city's hockey heritage is reflected in murals honouring local heroes. There's Canadiens legend Newsy Lalonde, Doug Gilmour and Hall of Famer Dale Haw-erchuk, who led the Cornwall Royals to back-to-back Memorial Cup wins. But the attraction tonight is a game between the Cornwall River Kings and Jonquière Marquis in the Ligue Nord Américaine de Hockey.
The first thing you notice is that this is not your father's LNAH. The last time the National Hockey League was locked out, the LNAH was known for brawls that were straight out of the WWE playbook.

Noted hockey fighters like Link Gaetz and Frankie (The Animal) Bialowas shared top billing with goons who had trouble skating. Steve Bossé, who played for the defunct Verdun Dragons, used hockey as the launching pad for a career in mixed martial arts.
Donald Brashear, a true heavyweight who played for Quebec Radio-X, refused to take part in the charade and, after a relatively tame contest at the Bell Centre, a Verdun team official unleashed an obscene, racist verbal attack on Brashear for not "putting on a show."
There are now seven teams in the LNAH, including Trois-Rivières, Rivière-du-Loup, St-Georges, Thetford and Sorel-Tracy.
"The league has been cleaned up," said Patrick Lacelle, who serves as the River Kings' governor, chief scout and public relations point man. "We still have brawls, but not like before."
There are two fights on this evening and the main event pits Cornwall's Francis Les-sard against Martin Grenier. They have heavyweight credentials. Lessard once racked up 416 penalty minutes in the American Hockey League, while Grenier had 479 while playing for the Quebec Rem-parts.
But both players have had a taste of the NHL - Lessard was with the Ottawa Senators as recently as two years ago - and both played a regular shift.
"The tough guys can play," said Cornwall's Yves Sarault, whose NHL credentials include a stint with the Cana-diens in the mid-1990s. "The hockey is pretty good, and with the lockout this year everybody gets pushed down and that makes this league better."
Each team in the LNAH has a handful of players who have enjoyed at least a cup of coffee in the NHL. There are former first-round draft picks and players whose careers are defined by the places they've been.
Sarault, who turns 40 this month, has played for 29 different teams in five countries. His résumé is highlighted by 106 NHL games, including 22 with the Canadiens in the tumultuous time after their last Stanley Cup win in 1993.
"I was there before the Patrick Roy fiasco," Sarault recalled. "I was a young guy and I didn't know what they expected of me. I was chasing around and hitting everybody. Looking back, I could have done better than that."
Sarault, who grew up in Valleyfield, says he retired about three years after the better part of a decade playing in Europe. He coached one year in Moncton, and when he isn't playing for the River Kings he works with the hockey program at a local high school that his son attends.

"I still enjoy playing and it helps that transition where you're done playing but you get used to a certain lifestyle," Sarault said. "Obviously, when you start out, you want to achieve a little. I was hoping to stick longer in the NHL, but I tell my kids I did everything I could on and off the ice. I disciplined myself to give me the best chance I had."
Sarault was a forward in the NHL, but today he patrols the blue line for the River Kings while serving as a leader on the ice.
He gets a goal and two assists against Jonquière and is the game's second star.
The first star on this night is a towering defenceman named Sacha Pokulok. The 25-year-old from Vaudreuil scores two goals, including one on a wraparound, and adds two assists in the 5-4 victory.
His dominant performance isn't a surprise because Pokulok is a thoroughbred who was once destined for an NHL career.
The 6-foot-5, 229-pounder played at Notre Dame College in Saskatchewan and then headed to Cornell University. He was named to the ECAC All-Rookie team in 2005, and the Washington Capitals selected him with the 14th overall pick at the NHL entry draft later that year. Pokulok had an outstanding sophomore year as Ryan O'Byrne's defence partner at Cornell and both of them left school in 2006 to pursue professional careers.
Pokulok had a strong training camp, but the Capitals sent him to their American Hockey League farm club in Hershey, Pa., for seasoning. His NHL dreams ended in his first pro game.
"I got a concussion and I missed five months," Pokulok said. "It was a clean hit, but I had my head down. I kinda learned from that. I came back too quick and got another concussion, and I've had a bunch more, and I went downhill from there."
Pokulok said he's aware of the potential danger of further concussions, but says he has learned to avoid trouble by trying "to use my body a bit more and keep my head up."
Pokulok spent several years bouncing between the AHL and the East Coast Hockey League before heading to Europe. He played one year in Germany and one year with the Zagreb team in the Austrian League. While Pokulok took advantage of the experience to see Europe, the hockey was a different matter.
"Things weren't going as well as I planned and I felt it was time to turn a page in my life and start something new, start real life," he said. "I saw the opportunity to play here and it was great. You get the opportunity to play hockey on weekends.
"I have a job, but I'm trying to figure out what I want to do with my life," Pokulok said.
"I have a bunch of options. Going from pro hockey to real life is difficult. With hockey, you practice and come home at noon and you have nothing to do. For me, it's a change of routine. Now, it's working 8-5."
Pokulok is philosophical when asked whether he has any regrets about his hockey career.
"I don't think about the past," he said. "It was disappointing, but if I dwell on it, I'm going to be miserable for the rest of my life."

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