Hockey is not a game for nuance, but when NHL commissioner Gary Bettman meets with Shawn Thornton to hear Thornton’s appeal of his 15-game suspension it should be. Hockey is a violent game of action and reaction in which one thing can quickly lead to another. That is why if justice rather than the hangman’s noose is to prevail, Bettman needs to see what is unimportant to the mob. He needs to see Thornton’s actions against the Pittsburgh Penguins as a nuanced though reprehensible response to what went on in a game that too quickly became a Wild West show. He then should reduce his penalty to 10 games or time served. Loui Eriksson was leveled by Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik with a harsh but legal body check that left Eriksson concussed. Orpik then declined Thornton’s invitation to fight about it, which was well within his rights to do. When a man makes a hard but legal check he should not have to fight over it. Orpik should not have to defend playing physical hockey. The Bruins, of all teams, should understand that. While some may argue it was borderline, the fact is the offensive player, the puck and the defensive player were all in the same area. Eriksson’s mistake was not paying attention to oncoming traffic when in the middle of a busy intersection. That’s on him. Had that been all that occurred between that hit and Thornton’s out of character decision to slew-foot Orpik from behind during a stoppage of play and twice pummel him in the face after he hit the ice, there wouldn’t be much to say at an appeal hearing but “Please . . .” That is where the nuance comes in and where Bettman should exhibit King Solomon-like wisdom. It is all well and good to use Thornton’s attack as a policing action for the sport’s growing violence but that cannot be done without recognizing it came only after Pittsburgh’s James Neal purposely kneed Brad Marchand in the side of the head while Marchand was defenseless on the ice. It was after that incident that Thornton took down Orpik, a clear reaction not to the Eriksson hit but to the fact the game was out of hand and his teammate had just been kneed in the head in as vulnerable and unknowing a position as Orpik soon would be in.
Shawn Thornton’s action deserves lesser ban
Boston Herald | Dec 20