Earlier today, the NHL handed down their punishment on Shawn Thornton of the Boston Bruins for the actions he took against Brooks Orpik of the Pittsburgh Penguins back on December 7th (video below). The league has decided to punish Thornton by suspending him for 15 games. I bring this up because I have heard both sides of the story.
Unfortunately, the majority of people I’ve spoken to are Bruins fans. They admit that what Thornton did was wrong, however, they suggest that in the end, it wasn’t his fault. After all, he was protecting his team mates.
Let’s start at the beginning (see video below)
This all began in the first shift of the game. As you watch (and view the video from 0:45 for the slow-motion replay) you see a hard and heavy hit from Orpik on Loui Erickson. Erickson was injured earlier this year with a concussion and this hit knocked him out of the game. I hear left and right that this hit from Orpik was dirty and predatory. Neither the refs, the announcers, or the league seem to think so. There was no penalty on the play, the announcers (Boston announcers at that) suggest that the play could have been called as interference as Erickson did not have the puck, yet (he was in motion of receiving the pass off of the boards), though they admit that it was at the refs’ discretion whether or not to make the call. If you watch, Orpik appears to make contact shoulder to shoulder. The hit isn’t high. He is not hitting Erickson from behind. He is gliding (feet are not moving). The hit was very hard and it clearly shook Erickson up.
Shortly after, Thornton challenged Orpik to a fight, which he declined by skating away. In my opinion, you have one other option there to play the role of enforcer and protect your teammates: HIT HARD. Of course, I received a lot of flak for having that train of thought. Enforcers around the league and many Bruins fans seem to think that Orpik was required to fight. Had he dropped his gloves and fought Thornton (and everyone agrees that Thornton would have destroyed Orpik), nothing else would have come of this… unless of course Orpik is injured during a fight… and it could all snowball out of control in plenty of other ways. There has been a lot of “what if” going on lately.
To the play that got Thornton suspended – It all began with a James Neal knee to the head of a prone and defenseless Brad Marchand. There was a scrum after the whistle and Thornton made the decision to skate over to Orpik, grab him from behind, sweep his leg out from underneath him, and punch him in the face twice as he laid on the ice. To suggest that there is a place in hockey for a sequence such as this is a travesty to the history and greatness of the sport. Clearly it wasn’t a hockey play and the emotion behind it wasn’t a sudden source of the action. The temper had been brewing ever since Orpik hit Erickson and declined to fight Thornton.
At the end of the day, there are those that are crying foul for this suspension claiming that it will open the flood gates on preventing enforcers from doing their jobs. In reality, enforcers can do their job as long as they don’t cross the line like Thornton did. You hit and hurt a star player, expect to be roughed up. If you won’t fight, expect some elbows, cross checks, and hard and heavy hits. But at no point should you expect to be hauled down and mugged from behind.