Thirteen days after he was punched unconscious and taken off of the ice in Boston on a stretcher, Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik found himself right where he wanted to be — back at practice with his teammates Friday at Consol Energy Center after having passed a baseline neurocognitive concussion.
“It’s nice to be back around the group atmosphere,” Orpik said after practice.
There is no timetable for him to return to the lineup, but, as far as the Dec. 7 incident, when he was attacked by Bruins winger Shawn Thornton, and the 15-game suspension the NHL handed Thornton, well, Orpik didn’t want to go there.
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“I haven’t watched it, and I don’t really have a memory of it, so I don’t really have a thought on it,” Orpik said after practice. “I don’t really have any desire to watch it.”
Thornton tried to goad Orpik into fighting after Orpik delivered a big hit on Boston’s Loui Eriksson early in the first period. Orpik rebuffed Thornton’s invitation. At 11:06 of the first period, after a whistle, Thornton approached a thicket of players from both teams, slew-footed Orpik from behind and, while Orpik was on the ice, punched him at least twice.
Six days later, Thornton received his suspension after an in-person hearing with the league’s department of player safety. He is appealing the suspension and had a hearing Friday with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, who did not immediately announce a decision.
Asked if 15 games was appropriate, Orpik said, “I don’t really care about the suspension. Everyone’s going to have an opinion. No one is ever going to be completely satisfied or completely agree with it.”
Orpik was released from a hospital in time to fly home from Boston with the team after the game, but he had concussion symptoms.
“The first two, three days were pretty miserable, really just bad headaches, memory loss of the game itself,” Orpik said.
Thornton and Orpik are part of a group of players who have worked out together in the offseason and during the NHL lockout last season. Thornton was emotional after the game and expressed remorse.
Friday, Orpik conveyed forgiveness and understanding.
“I talked to him that night, and I talked to him the day after. He was really apologetic,” Orpik said of Thornton. “I got to know him pretty well the last four or five years. Last year, I think we skated, I don’t know, it was a long lockout, so probably 40, 50 times together, worked out together, went to lunch together, stuff like that.
“He texted me. He was really apologetic. My record is far from perfect in this league or far from being completely clean. I think he knew he made a mistake and regretted it right away. I’ve had the same feeling with certain incidents that I’ve been a part of. I think you just try to learn from it and move on and try to be smarter in similar situations going forward. Like I said, I know him pretty well. He’s always been a pretty good friend of mine.”
Orpik didn’t elaborate on what he regretted in his career. In March 2006, he was suspended for three games for a hit from behind on then-Carolina forward Erik Cole, who went into the boards and got a compression fracture in a vertebra in his neck. Orpik was seen as a villain thereafter in Carolina.
Orpik is a physical defenseman but not a fighter, and Thornton wasn’t the first enforcer who wanted Orpik to fight after a big hit. Orpik was not penalized for the Dec. 7 hit on Eriksson and was reluctant to discuss the so-called code in hockey under which, some in hockey have said, everything might have blown over if he had fought Thornton.
Asked if players who deliver big hits are obligated to then defend their action by engaging in a fight, Orpik said, “My opinion’s probably different from the next guy, and different from the next guy. People have their own opinion on that. There are a lot of hits during the season. There would be a lot of fighting if that was the case.”
Orpik isn’t likely to engage in a fight anytime soon, but he said he not only feels good but also has no restrictions. He had some contact Thursday while skating with a few other teammates who are coming back from injury or suspended.
“I got through that and feel pretty good. I’m just kind of going from there,” he said. “It’s really just trying to get back into the flow of things, I guess. I don’t know when I’ll be back playing. I don’t want to screw up a good thing. Just try to get a few more practices in.”
Shelly Anderson: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1721 and Twitter @pgshelly.