December 8, 2013
My Thoughts on the Thornton/Orpik/Neal Incident
Last night there were a series of incidents at the Garden in the 1st period of the Bruins-Penguins game that lead to an ugly scene at the Garden.
Theres a video on youtube that has real-time and slow motion replays of all the incidents written about below.
Just 12 seconds into the game, Pens D man Brooks Orpik laid a huge hit on Bruins forward Lou Erikkson. The puck was coming around the boards but took a funny bounce out toward the middle of the ice. Orpik was clearly already committed to putting a body on Ericsson, which he did- even though the puck never arrived near the collision. The hit was high...not very dirty, but it was one that DEFINITELY should have been called for interference. But unfortunately, it wasnt. It's my opinion (and I referee hockey 3-4 times a week) that the officials could have diffused the entire game/situation with an Interference call here. Given the recent "chippy" history between these two teams, that borderline Interference call was a PERFECT opportunity for the officials to "take control of the game." I once attended a Referee clinic in Los Angeles, run by current NHL officials. A major takeaway from that camp I got was that it is important to establish the baseline of the game with a strong penalty call at the beginning of the contest. The referee actually did call a penalty on this play... after the whistle Chara got a little too aggressive and was called for roughing. This would have been a good "first call" as well, if they hadn't missed the much more important one on Orpik a few seconds earlier.
The Bruins went down a man right away to the hottest PP unit in the League (8/16 over their previous 5 games. 50%) The Penguins of course scored and now led 1-0. This was very frustrating to the Bruins. Over the next 6 or so game minutes there were big hits laid down by both teams.
At one point, Shawn Thornton got in Brooks Orpik's face and challenged him to a fight, in essence to "pay" for his questionable hit on Ericsson (who left the game and would not return.) Orpik denied the request and Thornton actually got called for "roughing" on the play. Its unfortunate Orpik didn't just man up and fight Thornton. Orpik isn't a fighter- his last fight was over 4 years ago- but given the fact that this is your biggest in-conference rivals (and team thats beaten the shit out of you over the past 6 games including a sweep in the playoffs), and your wearing an "A" on your jersey... man the F up and fight so hockey justice can be restored and the "playing field" can be even again. Anyway he didn't fight, and the virtual target on his back remained.
With just under 9 minutes left in the period, things got ugly. It started with James Neal skating out of his zone and intentionally kneeing Brad Marchand in the head. This was a horse shit play... and Neal did end up getting a minor penalty but I am guessing he will get further discipline form the NHL. He should. The principle point of intentional contact was Brad Marchand's head while he was down on the ice. Crazy dangerous. We are lucky Marchand was fine after this.
Further down the ice Orpik was standing near a small scrum. Thornton comes bowling in from the left and immediately goes up to Orpik. Thornton basically shoved Orpik to the ground and punched him twice while Orpik was falling down/on his back. Orpik.... aka glass jaw... somehow got knocked out. Luckily now we know he is OK... it was scary because they had to take him off on a stretcher.
Thornton was given a Match penalty... removing him from the game immediately. When play resumed it was 4 on 4 for two minutes, and as soon as Neal came out of the box, he recieved a pass and sniped another goal making it 2-1 Penguins. This is how the period scoring would end.
Back to Thornton... this is what he said after the game (almost in tears):
"Obviously I made a mistake. Im aware of it. I've been told they're having a hearing and its hard for me to say much more than that. It was not my intention. I feel awful. I felt sick all game. It's always my job to defend my teammates, but I prided myself for a long time to stay within the lines. Its hard for me to talk about right nowI cant say 'I'm Sorry' enough. Im sure Ill be criticized for saying it, but its true and I hope he's doing all right. I heard that he's conscious and talking and Im happy for that."
Clearly Thornton crossed the line in this situation. I am sure he will get a suspension and/or fine... but this is a guy who's known for 'playing the game the right way' so I doubt they give him the hammer for this one mistake.
Neal, however, should get a suspension as well. I think you can make a pretty big argument that Neal's actions on the play were worse than Thorntons. His intentions were for sure. Kneeing someone in the head is crazy. And then of course he came out of the box to score and take the lead? Fuck you James Neal.
Also, yea this situation sucks and no one wanted it to happen... but hey Pittsburgh... hows it feel? to lose a guy from a cheap shot? Remember that guy named Marc Savard? If this situation HAD to happen to Thornton... I couldn't be happier that in came against the Penguins. Oh and by the way, the Bruins scored 2 goals in the last 90 seconds to win the game in regualtion. Sucks to suck Pittsburgh. See ya in the playoffs.
Click here if to see the video of ALL of this.