Penguins wait for decision on Thornton's disciplinary hearing
December 12, 2013 9:28 PM
Michael Dwyer/Associated Press
The Penguins' Brooks Orpik is taken off the ice after being injured in the first period of Saturday's game against the Bruins in Boston.
By Shelly Anderson / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The Penguins have had several days to absorb what happened Saturday night in Boston, sort through the emotions and form opinions on what supplemental discipline Bruins winger Shawn Thornton deserves.
Thornton has been suspended indefinitely since he pulled Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik down from behind and punched him, leaving him unconscious, concussed and in need of a stretcher to leave the ice at TD Garden. Thornton has a disciplinary hearing scheduled for today with NHL officials.
At some point after that — perhaps before the Penguins’ game tonight against New Jersey at Consol Energy Center, perhaps not — the league will define the full extent of Thornton’s punishment. Because Thornton’s hearing is face-to-face rather than by phone, the NHL can suspend him for six games or more.
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Count Penguins winger Jussi Jokinen among those who are on the side of more.
“I think it’s the league’s job to give [him] a big suspension,” Jokinen said Thursday. “I think that’s the way you get that stuff out of the game, to have a big suspension. That’s what we’re trying to do, and I fully support the league going with a big suspension.
“You can do all the talking you want, but, if you don’t have a big suspension … I think that’s the only way to get that stuff out of the game.”
Others are unsure what to expect.
“Honestly, I have no idea,” defenseman Deryk Engelland said. “You think about it. It could go either way. I don’t know if they want to make an example out of it and go more. They could think it’s just a freak thing and not go as high. I don’t know.
“Some of them are hard to judge [what the league will do], and that’s one of them. It’s not a hockey play. It’s not like a hit to the head in a split-second accident.”
Penguins winger James Neal had a phone hearing and was handed a five-game suspension for kneeing Boston winger Brad Marchand in the head as he skated past Marchand just before Thornton injured Orpik.
The nature of the Thornton incident, which came in the first period of a 3-2 Boston win, has helped feed a notion that Thornton deserves a hefty penalty. It also caught many of the Penguins off-guard.
Play had stopped, and Orpik — who earlier delivered a thundering check on Boston’s Loui Eriksson — was one of several players standing in a group when Thornton approached him from behind.
“It was after a whistle, so it surprised me, stunned me a little bit,” said Penguins winger Pascal Dupuis, who was near Orpik at the time. “I didn’t think about reacting to what [Thornton] did; I just tried to get somebody there to help [Orpik].”
Days later, Dupuis wasn’t willing to try to coax the NHL one way or another.
“It doesn’t really matter what I think. The league’s going to make a decision,” Dupuis said. “Ask me on Friday night if I agree with it.”
Penguins team captain Sidney Crosby expects to stand behind the NHL, which he trusts will take some sort of hard line against Thornton.
“I’m sure it’s going to be a stiff penalty,” Crosby said. “I don’t know exactly how many games.
“I think they’ve been really good with all that stuff, whether it’s that incident or previous ones. I think they’ve been really consistent. I don’t think anyone’s going be surprised by how many games it is. It’s kind of a unique scenario. It’s not your typical body check.”
Orpik is dealing with a concussion and related symptoms. He has not practiced or been available for comment.
He was not penalized for his hit on Eriksson — who is now out of Boston’s lineup because of a concussion — but Thornton subsequently approached Orpik and attempted to start a fight. Orpik declined, and Thornton received a roughing minor penalty.
Some believe Orpik was obligated to fight Thornton as part of some sort of unwritten code among players, and that if he had fought Thornton it would have settled a score.
“There are lots of players who think that way, and lots of players who think the other way,” Jokinen said. “Personally, I don’t think you have to fight [after delivering] legal hits. That’s part of the game. I think we want to keep that hitting part of the game.”
Engelland, like Thornton, is willing to drop his gloves to defend a teammate. Between the time Thornton tried to goad Orpik into fighting and the incident that left Orpik unconscious, Engelland fought Boston’s Milan Lucic.
Engelland does not think Orpik — who is not known for fighting — was obligated to accept Thornton’s invitation to engage in fisticuffs.
“If Thornton wants to fight him that bad, he probably should have dropped his gloves and said, ‘We’re going. You don’t have a choice,’ and taken a two-minute instigator [penalty],” Engelland said. “At least then [Orpik] has a chance to defend himself and knows it’s coming — not haul him down from behind and punch him when he’s on the ice.
“By going after [Orpik] the first time, I think the message was sent. It could have ended there.”
Crosby’s views on the incident haven’t changed a lot in the days since it happened.
“I don’t think we liked it then; I don’t think we like it now,” Crosby said. “But the main thing is that [Orpik] is OK. That’s really what’s on our mind. How many games [Thornton] gets — I’m not going to be paying attention to that as much as when is [Orpik] going to be back. That’s more my concern.”
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