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December 16, 2013 | 4:40pm ET
Thornton, Shanahan and 15 Games
By Shawn Hutcheon, TheFourthPeriod.com

BOSTON, MA -- Fifteen games. That is the suspension handed to Bruins winger Shawn Thornton for his rendering Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik unconscious when he grabbed Orpik from behind, pulled him down to the ice and punched the Penguin twice at Boston's TD Garden on Dec. 7, 2013.

Orpik suffered a concussion and will miss his fourth game since the incident on Monday.

In deciding the length of the Thornton suspension, Department of Player Safety head Brendan Shanahan saw several mitigating circumstances.

Shanahan saw Thornton try to engage Orpik in a fight at the 5:44 mark of the first period after Orpik had delivered a hit to Bruins forward Loui Eriksson. That hit resulted in Eriksson suffering his second concussion in five weeks. Orpik chose not to fight Thornton. The Boston tough guy was assessed a minor penalty for roughing during which Pittsburgh scored.

As a former college player, I know this would have had my blood pressure rising if I was Thornton. Not only would I have been angry at Orpik for the hit on Eriksson, I also would have been angry because he would not drop the gloves -- plus, the Penguins scored a powerplay goal.

At that point, a player wants to even the score by either scoring a goal himself or by delivering a thunderous body check. Unfortunately, Thornton did something that he has never done before: he let his emotions rule over reasoning and 11:06 into the first period, he chose to skate from two zones away into a scrum and carried out an act that should never have taken place.

Once he arrived at the scrum, he grabbed Orpik from behind, kicked the blueliner's feet out from under him, dropped to the ice and began punching the defenseless Orpik in the face and head. The linesmen quickly separated Thornton from Orpik and escorted him to the Bruins bench. Subsequently, Orpik was wheeled off the ice on a stretcher and immediately taken to Massachusetts General Hospital.

Thornton was assessed a match penalty and removed from the game. The match penalty carried an automatic suspension until the hearing could be conducted. He has missed four total games and will sit out another 11 contests.

Immediately after the incident, the battle lines were drawn and people from all corners of the hockey world expressed outrage at either Thornton or Orpik.

The problem with that is people saw what they wanted to see. All objectivity went out the window.

After the game, I stood two feet away from Thornton in the Bruins dressing room as he expressed remorse and regret at these actions. He talked about how he has trained with Orpik in the summer and knows him well. Anyone, and everyone, who has been around the Bruins for any length of time knows Thornton spoke from the heart.

The benefit for the NHL in having Shanahan in the position as the head of the Department of Player Safety is that he has been on the ice and knows, exactly, what goes through an NHL player's mind in all circumstances.

Contrary to popular opinion, he took all of the information, video, and Thornton's apology under advisement and made the decision he believes is best for the game.

Of course, everyone who owns some sort of technological device had to offer their two cents worth when the suspension was leaked before the League could announce it and no one was happy with the decision. It was either too many games for the Bruin to sit out or not enough. Naturally, Shanahan "hates" Boston, or he "loves" them. That belief is decided by which side of the fence you sit on.

Today, Shanahan knows he is not popular in Boston nor Pittsburgh.

Did he take into account that Orpik's hit on Eriksson was a hit to the head? Did he take into the account that the referees did not call a penalty on the play?

Did Shanahan look at the history of illegal hits that have taken place between the two clubs?

It doesn't matter, he does not need to do that.

His job was to look at Thornton's actions and words, which is exactly what he did.

At some point, a player was going to be made the example of what will, and will not, be acceptable on ice behavior and if timing is everything, Thornton was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

There was no precedent for Shanahan to look at and hand down a specific suspension that matched one from the past. Much like in a courtroom, each case is different.

On the surface, 15 games appears to be excessive and Thornton has since filed an appeal.

In this writer's humble opinion, after looking at the incident and the apology as objectively as possible, it looks as if Shanahan got it right.

From the moment a hockey player laces up the skates, he is taught that he is always responsible for his own actions on the ice.

No one in the building could stop Thornton from acting in the manner that he did. To his credit and not surprisingly, he has owned his behavior and is disappointed in himself. He knows he let his teammates, coaches, management, and himself down.

He has also let the game down.

Thornton will serve his suspension and come back a better player for it. Whether he will be the same player remains to be seen. The belief here is he will continue to play with an edge. He will continue to stand up for his teammates, but he will be smarter about it, in that, he will be in better control of his emotions which will result in his becoming a better player overall.

Shawn Hutcheon is the Boston Correspondent for The Fourth Period.


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