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January 9, 2014 | 8:51pm ET
Merlot will be served in San Jose
By Shawn Hutcheon,

BOSTON, MA -- Over the course of the last month, the Boston Bruins have given the hockey world plenty to chat about.

The talk of the town has been dominated by the team's multitude of injuries. The loss of players from the roster has given players who were recalled from the organization's American Hockey League affiliate in Providence, Rhode Island, the opportunities to prove they are ready for NHL duty.

Six made their debuts in The Show during the course of that time. All have performed well and have shown they are close to becoming full time NHLers.

After using that somewhat patchwork lineup, the Bruins can see the return of veteran winger Shawn Thornton on the horizon.

Thornton has been serving a suspension since the team's December 7th game versus Pittsburgh at Boston's TD Garden.

In that contest, the forward lost his composure and attacked Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik. Thornton pulled Orpik down to the ice from behind using a slew foot motion and as the Penguin was falling, the Bruin dropped to his knees and punched the defenseless Orpik twice in the face/head.

The results of the incident were a concussion to Orpik and a 15 game suspension to Thornton.

The Bruins forward appealed the ruling to NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, but according to Bettman's decision, Thornton told Brendan Shanahan (who meted out the suspension) in the initial hearing that he did not think about his actions before executing them. However, he told Bettman that his actions were premeditated. This contradiction in Thornton's testimonies was the central reason for Bettman to decide to uphold Shanahan's 15-game suspension.

After what has been a long five weeks for Thornton and the Bruins, the suspension will end on Saturday, January 11, meaning the team's fourth line of Thornton, Gregory Campbell and Daniel Paille, also known as the Merlot Line (they wear merlot colored jerseys in practice), will be reunited in San Jose.

The trio has been called the best fourth unit in the NHL due to their forechecking expertise and ability to keep opponents from advancing pucks out of their zones.

The line uses its speed, positioning and heavy physical play to win races and battles for loose pucks and/or negate opposing defensemen from making clean break out passes to their forwards. In the odd event that opponents move the disc into the neutral zone, the Merlot Line can be seen backchecking with speed and checking the other team's players off the puck.

Offensively, the line is more than capable of scoring when the Bruins need a goal. The trio has scored a total of 12 goals on the season with Thornton scoring three of those goals.

Of course, when Boston needs someone to step up and send the message that no one will take advantage of his teammates, one needs to look no further than Thornton, who is one the league's most feared fighters.

This is not to say the players, who have filled in for Thornton, have not served the club well. As mentioned, they have but Boston has missed Thornton's grit, speed and leadership.

Off the ice, the Oshawa, Ontario, native is a vocal leader on the bench and in the dressing room. He knows what to say and when to say it and is very much appreciated by his teammates.

Thornton has been practicing and traveling with the team and no doubt has had plenty to say when the club needed encouragement in the dressing room, but there are times when players need a piece of advice or encouragement on the ice. Thornton has become a master at this.

During the course of the suspension, questions arose as to whether Thornton will be the same player upon rejoining the team or will he be a more passive one. It would be quite a surprise to see the latter.

One cannot even begin to imagine seeing the big (6-foot-2, 217 pounds) forward not throwing a thunderous check or dropping the gloves. The Bruins and fans alike can rest assured that Thornton will not allow himself to become that type of player.

After spending all or parts of the nine seasons in the minors in conjunction with 11 in the NHL, he has worked too hard, for too long, to become a full time NHL player. Thornton has never forgotten how hard he had to work to get there nor has he forgotten how much harder he has needed to work to remain there.

Talk to Thornton for just a few minutes and it is very clear he does not take anything about his job for granted. He loves being a hockey player, he loves his role, and most of all, loves being a Boston Bruin.

Now, can I interest you in our best merlot?

Shawn Hutcheon is the Boston Correspondent for The Fourth Period.

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