For the last several years, countless incidents have given the National Hockey League a bit of a dark cloud. Those incidents include Matt Cooke’s blatant elbow to Marc Savard, John Scott’s cheap shot to Loui Eriksson and Raffi Torres’ ungodly hit on Marian Hossa, just to name a few.
But on the anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attacks, the NHL might have its day that will live in infamy 72 years later.
It all started in Boston where the Bruins and Penguins battled for the third and final time of the 2013-14 season. Just moments into the contest, Pens defenseman Brooks Orpik leveled Loui Eriksson with what looked like a high hit to the head area of the Bruins’ forward, who left the game. Was it dirty? No. But it was borderline enough that it could have warranted a two minute minor.
Instead, the B’s got all worked up and let their emotions get the best of them in the opening 20 minutes.
Ironically enough, an unwilling Orpik was on the receiving end of a couple of vicious blows from Shawn Thornton. With Orpik down on the ice, Thornton’s second punch knocked Orpik out cold and the Boston College alum was carted off on a stretcher, spending the night in Mass General Hospital. Thornton received a match penalty for his antics and will likely get an in-person hearing with Brendan Shanahan.
In a rare sight, an emotional Thornton – who skated with Orpik in off-ice sessions during the lockout – felt ashamed for his actions.
“I feel awful. It wasn’t my intention for that outcome,” a soft spoken Thornton said. “I’ve known Brooksie. I got to know him over the last seven years here. I skated with him in the summer and through the lockout.”
“Obviously I made a mistake. I feel awful. I felt sick all game.”
Just seconds before Thornton’s actions, James Neal delivered a blatant knee near the head of a sprawled Brad Marchand that resulted in a two-minute minor. Some will argue that Neal should’ve received more, including your’s truly. Neal will have a phone discussion with Shanahan on Monday
Despite all of the emotions and animosity Saturday night, Claude Julien kept with the status quo about the dirty play(s) and did not give in-depth answers about the incidents in his press conference.
“I’m not going to give any opinions because you know what? Right now, what’s going on, I think the league has to look into that stuff and as much as I like to give my opinion, I don’t think its a wise thing to do,” said the Bruins coach.
“It’s a real unfortunate situation. The only thing I’m going to say is let’s not look one way here. There’s a lot of blame to go around and we all have to take responsibility for that.”
Certainly, Shanahan will be busy looking at tape from this one before his phone hearing with Neal on Monday and an in-person hearing with Thornton. But that isn’t the only problem Shanahan has to deal with from Saturday’s slate.
Just 1:15 into the Flyers-Stars matchup Saturday afternoon in Dallas, Zac Rinaldo jumped Stars forward Antoine Roussel from behind and threw several punches to an unwilling combatant. In addition to his fighting major, the Flyers pest also received an instigator and a game-misconduct, giving the Stars a seven-minute power play in the process.
“He went out there and punched him in the head a few times and [it was] stupid,” Flyers coach Craig Berube said about Rinaldo’s actions.
Unlike Rinaldo, Thornton had a clean track record prior to Saturday night. But that will all be thrown away for the Bruins enforcer – who won’t be traveling to Toronto with the B’s on Sunday – as he awaits his in-person hearing and most likely a double digit ban from the league’s Director of Player Safety this week. For his part, it’s likely that Rinaldo will get a nice “Shanaban” too.
By no means is Thornton a disrespectful human being, as seen with his dejected look after Saturday’s antics. But in this instance, he let his emotions get the best of him.
The same can’t be said about the culture around the league these days, however, as the lack of respect is growing at an alarming rate. Scott’s elbow on Eriksson to Ray Emery jumping Braden Holtby are just a couple examples from this season alone.
There is no denying that the NHL has done a pretty decent job of handling their protocol’s on player safety. With the ongoing discussion on concussions and other head injuries, the league has taken good steps in trying to put player safety first in that regard.
Where they are missing out, though, is on the discipline side of things. And that needs to change thanks to Thornton, Neal and Rinaldo’s antics Saturday night. Otherwise, the disrespect around the league will just continue to grow.