The top story in the hockey world over the past week has undoubtedly been the incident(s) that occurred during the Bruins/Penguins game last Saturday. A quick summary of what happened reads like this: Early in the game, Pens defenseman Brooks Orpik decks the Bruins Loui Eriksson with a questionable check, and Eriksson leaves the game. Later in the period, Bruins enforcer Shawn Thornton challenges Orpik to drop the gloves, Orpik refuses. This is followed by James Neal kneeing Brad Marchand in the head, and in the ensuing scrum, Thornton takes Orpik to the ice, and hits him with two punches to the head. Thornton is tossed from the game, while Orpik is carried away on a stretcher. I would like to share my thoughts that came to mind while watching these events unfold.
First, there’s the hit on Eriksson. Was this a fair check from Orpik? There was nothing wrong with the way in which Orpik hit Eriksson. There was no elbow used, nor was there targeting of the head, and he didn’t jump or lunge at Eriksson, so the actual contact is a textbook body check. Was it deserving of a penalty though? That’s where it starts to become debatable. Don Cherry said it was clean, calling this a suicide pass from Patrice Bergeron, but considering the pass was a few feet behind him and Eriksson never touched the puck, I could see how it one could say it could be a penalty, though only an interference call at worst. One thing that seems to have been lost in all of the discussion is, that after the hit, Zdeno Chara takes a blatant charge at Pascal Dupuis, yet nobody seems to want to talk about that. (View the hit here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nvteW6mvasA)
Incident #2: Thornton’s challenge. You can see right after the check, Thornton was the first guy on the bench to speak with Eriksson. Who knows what was said, but it’s clear to see Thornton knows Eriksson is injured. So what is most likely going through his mind? Thornton is an enforcer who’s role is to intimidate and protect, and he just saw a teammate that recently returned from a concussion get socked with a hit that without the benefit of instant replay, does appear to be questionable. So when he challenges Orpik to drop the mitts, it’s not about trying to hurt Orpik, it’s about stepping up for a teammate who is coming back from an injury, who has just been hurt again from a check that probably looked more than questionable in Thornton’s eyes. Do I blame Orpik then for not wanting to fight? Not at all if he’s not comfortable fighting, and I think Thornton realized that, and was simply challenging to intimidate and show support for his teammate, with no intent to injure the Pens D-man.
That should have been it. Thornton realized Orpik didn’t want to scrap, but he sent his message, plus, shortly after that, we had a nice clean tustle between Milan Lucic and Derek Engelland, two respectable fighters. The Bruins sent their message, the matter should have been put to sleep, but James Neal made sure that didn’t happen.
While Brad Marchand was getting to his feet, Neal hits him with an intentional knee to the head, and then leaves the ice on a line change. I’ve heard a few say it was unintentional, but if you truly believe that, I’m sorry, you have rocks in your head. Pure cheap shot from Neal, coming right after it had appeared the dust had settled on Orpik’s hit and the aftermath that ensued. Possibly the most intriguing comment to come from this was Jeremy Roenick’s take on it. Roenick said that considering Marchand is a guy who is not liked within the league, if he (Roenick) was playing, he probably would’ve done the same thing Neal did, but then says something like this cannot be in the game, and he was surprised Neal only received a 5-game suspension. I get he is saying he may understand Neal’s mentality behind the attack, but in a game where the air was beginning to clear, this was nothing but unnecessary. (Roenick’s full comments here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FBKtkPPPAAc)
Then of course comes the grand finale to this whole debacle. In a fit of rage, Thornton trips Orpik down to the ice after the whistle, and lands a couple punches on him. Like Roenick saying he understood Neal’s mentality, I can see why a spark was lit under Thornton. The Bruins had lost Eriksson again to another questionable hit, they had sent their message to Penguins that any other play being viewed as a possible intent to injure would be unacceptable, and then Neal disrespects them by blatantly kneeing Marchand. Unfortunately, Orpik just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Now stating that I can understand Thornton’s mentality in no way means that I’m saying what he did was justifiable, it wasn’t. I’m simply stating I can see why he snapped. (View the whole incident here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8VEz9p8-L3s)
I’m glad Thornton apologized for what he did. He’s a great enforcer who knows he stooped to the level of “goonish” activity that he knows was unacceptable. He knows he took the role of policing the game a step too far. Those are my thoughts on the matter, but I, like the NHL, cannot seem to decide on how long Thornton should be suspended. What do you think everyone? Leave your comments below.