Brooks Orpik became the latest victim of a disturbing trend in the National Hockey League over the weekend.
During the first shift of the game, Orpik stepped up on Loui Eriksson exiting his own zone and delivered a punishing, clean body check.
As is the case in the NHL, Orpik then became the target of the Bruins because he must now pay for the heinous act of checking an opponent within the rules.
Shortly after the hit, Boston’s Shawn Thornton confronted Orpik in almost the same spot on the ice as the hit. Thornton hacked and shoved Orpik multiple times, clearly looking to start a fight.
Orpik shrugged him off and Thornton was assessed a two-minute penalty for roughing. The Penguins would go on to score on the ensuing power play.
It was a selfish penalty and it cost the Bruins, but was that enough shame for Thornton?
Not even close.
What transpired at the 11:06 mark of the first period was downright disgusting.
During a post-whistle scrum, Thornton skated from his own zone to confront Orpik, who was already tied up with a Bruin near Marc-Andre Fleury’s net.
Thornton glides in, slew foot’s Orpik, causing him to fall backward to the ice. That wasn’t enough for Thornton either, who then jumped on top of Orpik and connected with at least two punches to the head.
Orpik had to be placed on a stretcher and was taken to Massachusetts General Hospital.
After the game, head coach Dan Bylsma suggested that Orpik may have suffered a concussion in the ordeal.
(Update: The Penguins have placed Orpik on injured reserve.)
Let’s quickly recap this shall we?
Orpik gets jumped by a fringe NHL player and possibly suffers a concussion for delivering a clean hit to Eriksson.
Now, some tried to suggest that James Neal’s actions prior to all this played a role in Thornton losing his mind.
This argument is just utter nonsense.
At the bare minimum, Neal made no attempt to avoid kneeing Brad Marchand in the head. Marchand was already down on the ice as Neal exited the Boston zone.
To me, I think Neal knew exactly what he was doing and deserves any length of suspension that is likely coming from a phone hearing with Brendan Shanahan’s office today.
However, Thornton skated right by Neal en route to assaulting Orpik.
So, based on Thornton’s previous actions in the game, it’s reasonable to assume he had a score to settle with Orpik and nothing was going to stop him.
One would think Thornton would have been more upset with Neal, given that Orpik’s actions were well within the scope of the rule book.
What’s even more baffling in all of this is Thornton spoke to ESPN about fighting and the concept of “The Code” just days before his attack on Orpik.
In the article, Thornton essentially says people acting out of line get what’s coming to them eventually.
Part of this is on the officials as well. The game was physical from the start and was starting to escalate.
When Thornton challenged Orpik the first time, he should have been assessed a 10-minute misconduct penalty in addition to the roughing minor.
Referees have been known to hand out 10-minute misconducts for far less to keep control of a game. By issuing one to Thornton there, they would have sent a clear message to both teams to keep their emotions in check.
Would it have prevented Thornton from pulling this stunt later in the game? We’ll never know, but sitting out for 12 minutes may have given him some time to think twice.
To say Orpik could have prevented this by accepting the challenge to fight the first time is mind-blowingly misguided.
Why on Earth should a player have to defend himself for a clean hit? I understand the concept of sticking up for your teammates, but this is absurd.
I’ve voiced my support of fighting many times on this website, but only when it’s warranted. If a fight breaks out in the middle of a play, so be it. Staged fights have no place in the game and detract from the overall product.
There is no valid reason for why Orpik should have dropped the gloves in this case.
Last I checked, the “H” in NHL stood for hockey and checking is legal.
Now, I’ve also seen some talk from a very small sample of Bruins fans drawing a parallel between this incident and Matt Cooke’s hit on Marc Savard.
Again, the Cooke hit was a dirty hit. I’ve never said anything different.
However, the difference between the two incidents is glaring.
Cooke’s hit happened during the play.
Thornton’s actions came well after the whistle had blown and happened at the other end of the ice from where he was when play stopped.
For repetition’s sake, Cooke’s hit was clearly dirty and I completely understand Bruins fans being upset to this day about it. I would be too if the roles were reversed.
However, absolutely none of that justifies a premeditated assault.
Thornton will face an in-person hearing where he will likely be suspended for at least five games.
Once again, Shanahan and his team have a chance to set a precedent that this will not be tolerated in the National Hockey League.
They had a chance earlier this year to do the same thing and failed to do so.
John Scott, of the Buffalo Sabres, delivered a blatant blow to the head of Eriksson and only got seven games for it.
Time will tell if Thornton gets what’s coming to him from the league or not.
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